The successful restoration of the peregrine falcon across much of North America has been an unparalleled success. Although still extremely rare, the peregrine is no longer endangered. Indeed, in many areas this falcon is more numerous today than at any time in the past.
There are many reasons for the success. To a large extent, it is attributable to the bird’s remarkable versatility and adaptability. The peregrine falcon has proven to be one of those few species that thrives in manmade environments. It is also very tolerant of human activities and disturbances.
Another key to successful restoration was inspired and determined human intervention. Scientists first needed to learn how to breed peregrines in captivity. Young, captive raised birds were then released back into the wild. This too was a learning process. One of the initial surprises was that the reintroduced birds tended to do better in cities than in areas where peregrines had traditionally been found.
In the Midwest, reintroduction efforts began in 1981. It was a collaborative effort, involving numerous public agencies and private groups. The project has been coordinated and monitored by scientists from The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota.
An early milestone was reached in 1987, when a pair of reintroduced birds nested on the Multifoods Tower in Minneapolis and successfully fledged one offspring, a female named Maud. Maud thus became the first peregrine falcon to be produced in the wild as a result of the Midwest restoration efforts.
Augmented by continued releases of captive raised peregrines, the Midwest population has grown steadily since the restoration project started. A second milestone was reached in 1993, when for the first time the number of wild produced young exceeded the number of captive raised birds released.
By 1999, the population had recovered sufficiently to permit the “de-listing” of the peregrine for purposes of the Federal Endangered Species Act. In 2008, a total of 244 territorial pairs were recorded in the thirteen states and two Canadian provinces that are included in the Midwest study area. A considerable majority nested, and collectively they fledged 449 young.
To date, 1,286 young falcons are known to have been released into the wild in the Midwest. In addition, more than 4000 peregrines are know to have been raised in the wild since 1987. This is the true measure of the project’s success. Although a small number of releases continue, they are no longer necessary. Barring the development of new threats, the peregrine falcon appears to be firmly re-established. Natural production should be more than sufficient to maintain the population at or above its current levels. Moreover, those levels have already exceeded the most optimistic of the initial goals and projections. To put this in perspective, it is estimated that the breeding population present in the Midwest today is at least four times larger than the population that existed under natural conditions.