Thursday, February 20, 2014


The Raptor Protection Movement and the Return of Falconry
            With the demise of the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) and Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), between the four short years of 1914 and 1918, ornithologists and devout birdwatchers began a movement of their own; to protect avian predators. In addition, by 1920 five thousand Bald Eagles in just the State of Alaska were dead due to a bounty of fifty cents a head. It was ignorantly believed the eagles interfered with the salmon fisheries as well as accused of killing young deer and livestock.24 Eventually, the Bald Eagle gained protection in 1940 with the Bald Eagle Protection Act; however, other raptors remained unprotected at that time. Additionally, the Bald Eagle was still not protected in Alaska until 1959. 25 Although by 1966, law protected all raptors, the fight for the genuine protection and conservation of raptors continues today.

Craighead brothers with Golden Eagle
     In 1920, fourteen-year old twins, Frank and John Craighead, read Louis Agassiz Fuertes’ article “Falconry, The Sport of Kings: Once the Means of Supplying Man’s Necessities, It Has Survived the Centuries as One of the Most Romantic Pastimes of History” in The National Geographic Magazine. This would spark a life-long fascination with raptors that ultimately changed public’s opinion and the image of the avian predator. Although the Craighead twins spent several months hawking with Indian princes, training their falcons, actual hunting with their birds was never realized; they kept them merely as pets. The Craighead twins facilitated a more ‘pet’ type distinction and sweet perspective of their falcon to the general public. The Craigheads’ approach enabled the falcons to be seen in a different light, in fact, they were revealed as intelligent and gentle, and not the ruthless killers as believed.26
Peregrine Falcon eating prey
      Falconry was increasing in popularity between the 1940s and 1960s. In 1961, Harold Webster and Frank Beebe founded the North American Falconers Association (NAFA). NAFA was not only an association for falconers but it set out to educate the public on the benefits of raptors in the wild, such as keeping the rodent population in check; however, some states still considered the predatory birds vermin. Most falconers used the traditional falconry bird, Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) but during this time, a World War II Veteran was using a Golden Eagle in Idaho. Also, Tom Cade (future founder of the Peregrine Fund) was finishing his graduate studies and hawking in California.27 Falconry and raptors seemed poised for a true revival and regain their former status but all was not well. 
From the Brink of Extinction
         While falconry was making a comeback in the United States and Europe; falcons, Bald Eagles and Ospreys were disappearing nearly without detection. It was not until Derek Ratcliffe, a British ornithologist, reported his study published by the Nature Conservancy, that Peregrine Falcon nests were failing. Passenger pigeon enthusiasts originally initiated this study because they believed there were too many falcons.28 Ratcliffe suspected pesticides. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring has been hailed as the marking point in raptor conservation and saving many raptor species from the almost certain extinction. Silent Spring brought pesticides, such as DDT and DDE, to the foreground in the battle to save these species.

         The first international conference on the Peregrine was in 1965, at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The conference delegates, mostly falconers, learned the devastating truth that the Peregrines; they were declining fast in Europe and North America. Ratcliffe reported a thinning of their eggshells caused by the residual pesticides in the falcons’ prey (mostly other birds) thus resulting in nest failure. 29 By the mid-1970’s, there were only 20-30 known nesting pairs of Peregrines in the United States. 30 The mid-1960s and 1970s marked the unprecedented coming together of falconers and biologists to save the Peregrine, Bald Eagle and other raptors from extinction. 
24. Louis Agassiz Fuertes. “Falconry, The Sport of Kings: Once the Means of Supplying Man’s Necessities, It Has Survived the Centuries as One of the Most Romantic Pastimes of History.” The National Geographic Magazine. Washington: National Geographic Society 38, no. 6, (December, 1920): 466.
25. M. V. Barrow Jr,. “Science, Sentiment, and the Specter of Extinction: Reconsidering Birds of Prey during America's Interwar Years.” Environmental History (2002): 77, 78, & 88.
 26. Helen Macdonald. Falcon. London: Reaktion, (2006): 95.
27. Keith L. Bildstein, David R. Barber and Andrea Zimmerman. Neotropical Raptors. PA: Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (2007).
28. MacDonald. Falcon, 117-118.
29. Ibid., 120.
               30. Clait E. Braun, James H. Enderson, Charles J. Henny, Heinz Meng, and Alva G. Nye. “Falconry: Effects on Raptor Populations and Management in North America.” The Wilson Bulletin 89, no. 2 (June 1977): 362

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  1. Good work, Michele, and reflective of the good life's work you have chosen. I'll be looking at other posts of your blog as well. Cheers--Gary

    1. Thank you Gary! See you tomorrow at the VG for First Friday?


Silent Killer

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