Captive peregrine falcons, like this injured male, were the salvation of the species when DDT poisoning stopped reproduction for years.
With just a few computer mouse clicks, I was looking into a nesting box on Camas National Wildlife Refuge and observing an expectant peregrine falcon mother. Any day now, her eggs will hatch, adding several more peregrine falcons to the world population.
This is a unique way to observe the intimate behavior of wildlife without disturbance and I enjoyed watching while the birds went about their business. The webcam was the brainchild of the Friends of Camas group and has been up and running, albeit sometimes sporadically, since late April. The nest box, sitting on what is called a hack tower, has been in place for over 30 years.
The peregrine is a bird with worldwide distribution, living on every continent except Antarctica. For over a thousand years, it has been preferred by falconers (those who train falcons, hawks and eagles to hunt for them) for its speed, grace and beauty.
Webcams are pretty commonplace these days and for wildlife viewing, they are great. The charismatic and handsome peregrine falcon seems to be a favorite webcam subject as well, in part because we came close to losing the species to the pesticide DDT.
Never abundant, it was estimated that there were 3,875 nesting pairs of peregrine falcons in North America in the 1940’s. By the mid-sixties, this number had dropped 90 percent, to 324 breeding pairs in all of North America. The eastern population was completely extirpated.
While shooting, egg collecting and loss of habitat contributed to weakened populations, it was discovered that the use of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, was really the culprit. This popular and effective pesticide was leaking into the food chain with devastating results for peregrines. As apex predators (predators at the top of the food chain) they consumed birds that fed on seeds, plants, fish and insects that had been contaminated with DDT. The chemical accumulated in the falcons where it interfered with calcium production, causing weak egg shells that broke under the weight of the brooding adult. For years, peregrine falcon chicks were almost non-existent.
In 1970, new federal protection for wildlife, the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969, listed the peregrine falcon as endangered. When the Endangered Species Act was pass in 1973, the species was again listed as endangered and efforts to save them blossomed.
DDT was banned in 1972 and although it would take 15 years to break down in the environment, it was a start. At Cornell University, adult peregrines were successfully bred in captivity and this was the start of a wildly successful restoration project. After the eggs hatched they were raised for about three weeks in the lab. Then they were transferred to hack sites (artificial nesting sites) like the one at Camas NWR. Many of these sites were in cityscapes where tall buildings formed surrogate cliffs and pigeon populations provided an abundant prey base. According to the Midwest Peregrine Society, 48% of current peregrine nesting sites are located on high-rise buildings and other tall structures in the Midwestern states.
These released birds, over 6,000 since 1974, were cared for until they could fly and hunt on their own. Many of these birds returned to their hack towers and established them as their permanent nest sites, as happened at Camas NWR.
In 1999, the peregrine falcon was removed from the endangered species list. In this era where conservation legislation is going to face direct challenges, it is good to remember that regulations that protect animals from extinction can and do work if we have the will allow them to.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho