A bird that was once wiped out in Iowa continues hitting new milestones in its comeback. Pat Schlarbaum of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says peregrine falcons have set up new Mississippi River nests at Bellevue, Dubuque, Clinton, Muscatine and Keokuk.
“Well, it’s very significant, we’ve got a 25-percent increase here this year, with 20 nesting pairs. Pretty exciting,” Schlarbaum says. The birds had been wiped out by the use of the insecticide DDT, but the chemical was eventually banned. Efforts to return nesting peregrine falcons to the state began with the first nesting pairs in 1993 at Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. He says once a nesting pair gets established, they stick around.
“They are quite territorial, and they will return to where they have been successful,” Schlarbaum says. He says they historically nest in ledges or alcoves in rocks and they have been able to simulate those on tall buildings which are typically eight stories high. The Mississippi flyway has seen falcon nesting increase on the historic cliffs since 2000. Last year, 15 falcon pairs were successful at 13 sites that produced 34 young.
Schlarbaum is a wildlife diversity technician with the DNR, and says the birds are key to the ecosystem. “They are an indicator of an environment that is lacking DDT primarily, that’s kind of what wiped them out in the 50s and early 60s. I think they are here to guide us, they are very uplifting, they occupy the top of the food chain,” according the Schlarbaum.
The new falcon pairs have set up nests on the Dubuque courthouse, on a huge rock near Bellevue State Park, on a large building at ADM by the river in Clinton, and in a smokestack box at the Muscatine Light and Power energy plant dam in Keokuk. Schlarbaum says the peregrine falcon has made continued progress. “There’s been a lot of concerted effort to get them back in the skies and they are no longer in danger, which is a good thing,” he says. Schlarbaum says the birds are easily viewed where their prey of pigeons, waterfowl, starlings and sparrows live.
Schlarbaum says the danger for the birds right now is complacency and taking them for granted now that they have established a strong population. “And we’re certainly attempting to be vigilant with environmental outreach — especially with the youth — so they understand a choice was made in 1972 to ban DDT,” Schlarbaum says. “It was a hard choice, it was an economic choice, but the environment has improved because of that choice.”
Established wild pairs on cliffs in eastern Iowa include Agee’s Bluff, north of Lansing; Lansing Power Plant cliff; Leo’s Bluff, south of Harper’s Ferry; Bungee Elevator at McGregor and at the quarry near Eagle Point Park in Dubuque. Established pairs at Louisa Generating Station and the Great River Bridge in Burlington are active this year as are the sites at the I-80 Bridge in Davenport and the Alliant Energy smokestack at Chillicothe. Falcons were also hatching at Mid-American Energy headquarters in Davenport. There is a pair in Cedar Rapids on the U.S. Bank building. In central Iowa, nesting pairs are on the east side of the state capitol and downtown at the American Enterprise building.
You can learn more about peregrine falcons and find links to view them online at the DNR’s website.