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It’s spring, and one of Iowa’s most fascinating and rare birds of prey is currently getting down to the serious business of nesting! Do you know these facts about one of the fastest animals on the planet?
Call it a comeback
For years, the DNR worked with numerous partners to reintroduce this once thriving native species back to Iowa and help remove the bird from the federal endangered species list.
The introduction of the pesticide DDT in the 1960s affected the strength of falcons’ eggshells, leading to failed nests. By 1975, only 39 peregrine pairs remained in the lower 48 states. The pesticides were federally banned in 1972, but peregrines needed to recuperate their population. Between 1989 and 2003, 169 peregrine falcons were released in Iowa, part of 875 birds across the Midwest. Today, Iowa plays host to 15 to 20 nests around the state.
Fast and furious
Peregrine falcons are a thing of nightmares to their preferred prey – other birds. In pursuit of prey, they can fly 60 miles per hour straight forward. Not impressed? When they enter a hunting dive called a stoop, they can reach up to 200 to 240 miles per hour! This makes them one of the fastest animals on the planet.
The scientific name for peregrine falcon is Falco peregrinus, which means “wandering falcon.” During migration, peregrines may travel great distances. For example, peregrines nesting in the Arctic are known to migrate to Central and South America during the winter.
The peregrine is one of three falcons nesting in Iowa. The American kestrel is small and colorful, joined by the small and fierce merlin. Merlins were thought to no longer nest in Iowa until a few active nest sites were discovered a few years ago.
Peregrine falcons have been trained for falconry hunting for more than a thousand years. In fact, captive breeding by falconers was instrumental in the conservation and restoration of the species after its population was devastated by the chemical DDT.
You’re the only one
Breeding pairs tend to be monogamous throughout their lifespan and return to the same nesting location year after year.
Peregrines’ nests are simply a scrape in the dirt or gravel of a cliff ledge, building alcove, or nest structure. Many peregrine falcons in Iowa and elsewhere nest on tall buildings in urban centers or the large smokestacks of energy plants. They successfully use these structures because they resemble their natural nesting grounds – the faces of cliffs and bluffs.
Take a peek
Two Iowa falcon nest sites sit on prominent municipal buildings: the Dubuque courthouse (which has a webcam) and the Iowa State Capitol Building!
Iowa is incredibly privileged to have these magnificent birds share the state with us! Be sure to check out the Dubuque Courthouse webcam to get a front row seat to this falcon family’s next few months.