The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the first peregrine falcons to nest in the state. Pat Schlarbaum says the started reintroducing the birds that had been wiped out by pesticide with 50 young falcons between 1989 and 1991.
“They were young, 38-day-old bird that were flightless, and we put them in release boxes in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Muscatine,” he explains. “And from those efforts, those birds were able to free fly until they were approximately 45-days of age, and they wandered around the landscape.”
A male falcon from Cedar Rapids and a female from Kansas City got together and made the first nest at the American Enterprise insurance building in Des Moines in 1993. Schlarbaum says the birds then continued to make their homes in the state. “Around Iowa, we have documented 17 nesting pairs this year state — so there’s was incremental growth through the 1990’s — but here in the 21st Century things have really been trending upward,” Schlarbaum says.
“There was a pair in Des Moines and also a second pair over in Cedar Rapids for a number of years. In 1999 the state acquired its third near pair up near Lansing, which was pretty exciting because it was the cliffs of northeast Iowa, where these birds have nested historically.”
He says while the falcons typically nested along the cliffs, they found urban buildings offered some of the same type of nesting areas, and a supply of food. The 17 pairs has almost doubled their predictions when they started the program.
“We were hoping for five, or as many as 10 nesting pairs. And historically that would have been what occupied the cliffs,” Schlarbaum says. But he says the urban environment has increased the state’s capacity for the birds, although he says at some point it will be reached. The return of the nesting pairs to Iowa is part of an overall resurgence of the birds.
“There’s as many peregrine falcons moving up and down the Mississippi flyway as about any time in recorded history — with the addition of these urban-nesting peregrines,” according to Schlarbaum. He says the falcons are important to the ecological balance.
Schlarbaum says the falcons are “biological indicator” species at the top of the food chain with all of their prey lower down on the ladder. “So their presence and their health is in a sense a monitoring of the health of the environment,” he explains.
The pairs produced 34 young falcons last year. Schlarbaum says there are various sites you can find with a search on the web, and you can then watch the peregrine falcons develop.