The peregrine falcon is being removed from Iowa’s "endangered species" list after a unanimous vote of the state Natural Resources Commission. Iowa’s fastest-flying bird is still considered a "species of concern," but its removal from the endangered list is a big step forward.
Pat Scharbaum, a wildlife technician with the DNR’s wildlife diversity program, says he’s thrilled by the move. "It’s taken a long, slow struggle, but by golly, they’re back," Schlarbaum says. "
We can’t proceed as a culture by leaving out certain key components and these are the indicator species. To have (the falcons) with us once again is a tremendous attribute and a great thing that our culture has provided but now we’ve gotta’ maintain it. We don’t want to lose them again."
Such "indicator" species begin to vanish when pollution, over-hunting and other environmental factors encroach, an indicator of serious problems. A chemical called DDT was widely used as a pesticide years ago and it ended up killing a lot more than just bugs. Schlarbaum says the peregrine falcons were nearly wiped out by the poison.
Schlarbaum says peregrine falcons were the "standard bearer" of the endangered species list. The federal list was created in 1972 when DDT was banned nationwide and the Endangered Species Act was implemented. While peregrine falcons were removed from the federal list in 1998, Schlarbaum says they remained on Iowa’s endangered species list for so much longer because their numbers simply hadn’t picked up here — until recently.
Now that the falcons are a "species of special concern" in Iowa, he guesses that’s a list from which they won’t ever be removed.
"These are migratory bird and there’s the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 that protects all migratory birds," Scharbaum says. "The ‘special concern’ just warrants the monitoring, the banding that we’re doing, just keeping a pretty close tab on their population dynamic."
There are 13 known nesting pairs of peregrine falcons in Iowa, in such diverse locations as the Interstate 80 bridge near the Quad Cities, on a smokestack at the Alliant Energy power plant in Wapello County and atop the U.S. Bank building in downtown Cedar Rapids. To see some falcons in their nest on the American Republic Insurance building in Des Moines, check out the Falconcam here.