Monday, March 9, 2015

Raptors and Wetlands

I am getting old but, partly, that is a good thing….

Back in the 1980’s – when I was in my twenties – the only place that I could see bald eagles in abundance was to take a trip to Alaska.  Flying into Juneau, I looked out the window to see the eagles roosting on the electrical towers close to the water where the fish were in abundance.  So, too, were the Peregrine Falcons, catching their favorite food of ducks in midair, swooping down as the ducks were taking off.   Both species of birds of prey migrated with the species they preyed on – the spawning fish and migrating duck species, but the raptors’ populations were still in sad, sad shape after years of DDT.

An Audubon print depicting Peregrine Falcons with their prey (photo: wikipedia files)

Fast forward 35 years with concentrated human effort (at places like World Bird Sanctuary) to bring raptor populations back to a healthy level….  My gray hair has increased, but so have the bird populations and even the wetlands where they find their favorite prey.  It was only a few years ago that I watched a mature Bald Eagle swoop in front of a tractor-trailer on Highway 55, barely missing death, but headed for the ‘safe zone’ of the median strip, of all places, to eat his large fish. 

It has also been a success of World Bird Sanctuary’s efforts in the last few years to have nesting peregrines on the tall office buildings of downtown St. Louis.  But, especially in recent years, I have enjoyed watching builders, developers, and city/county/federal government programs help bring back the wetlands, to bring back the fish, to bring back the waterfowl, and to ultimately bring back the raptors.

Peregrines, especially, will ultimately benefit from the wetlands habitat increase.  According to the website, there are approximately 1650 breeding pairs in North America, not a large number but a bigger population base than in years past, especially within my lifetime. To quote from the same site: “Adults have blue-gray wings, dark brown backs, a buff colored underside with brown spots, and white faces with a black tear stripe on their cheeks.  They have a hooked beak and strong talons.  Their name comes from the Latin word ‘peregrinus’, which means “to wander.”  They are commonly referred to as the Duck Hawk.  Peregrine Falcons are the fastest-flying birds in the world – they are able to dive at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour….Peregrine Falcons eat other birds, such as songbirds and ducks, as well as bats.  They catch their prey in mid-air….”   Right now, I can only imagine the sight of watching such a mid-air swoop over a rising flock of ducks from a constructed wetlands, but it is on my bucket-list now because that would be a success story where mankind ‘finally got it right.’

In future blogs, I hope to discuss in more detail about the intricate layers of wetlands as an important habitat for raptor populations.  It all starts with the water….

Submitted by Paula Arbuthnot, World Bird Sanctuary Part-time ETC Employee

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