An Iconic Bird Species Returns to Wisconsin
by Ellie Pleasnick, age 12
[Para leer la versión en español de éste artículo, puedes visitar éste enlace]
Sennett Middle School Free Press
Scientists estimate there are between 50 and 430 billion birds on earth, but there is one specific bird that is quite important to Wisconsin, the peregrine (pair-a-grin) falcon. This bird is about the size of a crow, has black feathers on its head, sideburns, a blue beak, and yellow feet. It can fly up to 200 miles per hour.
The peregrine falcon is amazing, but sadly it is endangered in the state of Wisconsin. There are not many remaining areas in the state where the females can lay their eggs. The falcons seen in Wisconsin are mainly passing through as they migrate between locations where they breed in the summer, such as Canada, and some southern wintering areas.
What may have happened to cause the decrease of this species? During the 1950's in Wisconsin, farmers used a pesticide called DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) in an attempt to get rid of harmful insects on plants. This was harmful to peregrine falcons because it caused females to lay eggs with very thin shells. The eggs did not survive because they were crushed during incubation. The toxic chemical even managed to change some of the birds' behavior, making them stop feeding and caring for their young birds. Some of the eggs the female falcons laid did not hatch because of the DDT. By the early 1970’s, there were absolutely no nesting pairs of peregrines left in the Eastern United States. In 1971, the federal government finally realized how toxic DDT was and banned its use.
Peregrines are named after a Latin word “peregrinus,”which means wandering. The peregrine falcon is found worldwide in every continent except Antarctica. When mating, males attempt to impress females in a showing of aerobatics and “whichew” calls from mid-air. Couples return once every year to use the same nesting ledge, referred to as an eyrie. The falcons prepare a saucer shaped depression in loose soil, sand, or grass called a scrape. In one of these areas the female lays two to four eggs. No “nest” is created or used. There may be some people who do not believe it, but there is a single ledge on an island off Wales in the UK that has been used since 1243.
The peregrine falcon is about the size of a crow, has a black area on its head, sideburns on its face, and a light brown breast area marked with small brown “v” shape. Anyone lucky enough to see the bird up close will notice that it has eyes that are dark brown with a yellow ring, and a slate-blue hooked beak. Imagine their strong yellow legs picking up small-medium sized birds in midair because that’s what they are used for!
Peregrine falcons are considered an endangered species in Wisconsin. Over time many eggs have been eaten by predators, reducing the population. In Madison, the main nesting site is the Madison Gas and Electric Co. Blount engineering station. Be sure to check it out if you’re in the area!
[Sources: Environmental Education for Kids; WI DNR]