March 21, 2013

Webcam keeps eye on nesting Maine peregrines

Still endangered in Maine, the species is recovering from devastating effects of DDT in the 1960s.

By North Cairn
Staff Writer

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This male peregrine falcon is one of a nesting pair that returned to an undisclosed southern Maine site this year.

Photo by Jenifer McKay

The peregrine falcon is a smallish raptor, with a weight that tops out at 2 pounds. It stands about 18 inches tall and its wing span is 3 to 4 feet, Keenan said.

"And these guys, in order to survive, hunt (other birds) in midflight," he said. "They are not just willy-nilly taking squirrels and things."

This is the fifth year of the Biodiversity Research Institute's peregrine-nesting webcam, which is helping researchers learn about the early stages of the birds' lives, how long they live, their hunting techniques and aerial skills, their local movements and productivity, and their survival success.

"For falcons, mortality is very high as they're learning to fly and hunt for food," Keenan said.

Biologists band the young whenever possible, to track range and migration patterns, as well as survival and dispersal.

"They have very extensive migrations," Keenan said, noting that some peregrines may migrate from Maine as far south as the southern parts of South America -- nearly 6,000 miles.

The efforts being made on behalf of many bird species, including peregrines, grew out of investigations into environmental problems associated with DDT and other agricultural pesticides in the second half of the 20th century.

The issues were brought to public attention in 1962 by biologist and writer Rachel Carson in her classic book, "Silent Spring," which spurred intense controversy and concern about the pervasive use of agricultural pesticides, about which little was known at the time.

The effects of DDT, among other pesticides, were a focus of environmental research for the next four decades. DDT was discovered to cause the deaths of many bird and animal populations, and, in subsequent generations, to lead to egg thinning and unsuccessful reproduction.

The poison was banned for use in the U.S. in 1972, but because it breaks down so slowly, accumulating in the fatty tissue of many creatures, including humans, it is still routinely found in the environment.

Though still endangered in Maine, the peregrine falcon has recovered enough in the western U.S. to be taken off the federal endangered species list, Todd said.

"Every one matters," said Todd. "Every one matters, no matter where they are."


North Cairn can be reached at 791-6325:


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