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Who Needs Cliffs?

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

Champions of the air! That's what they could be called.

Anyone who has witnessed the flight of a peregrine falcon would agree. It seems peregrines are capable of anything when borne on their long, pointed wings.

One moment they may be buoyed aloft like a floating leaf. Keep watching, because in the next instance they may drop almost vertically with wings tucked-at speeds of nearly 200 mph. Even at this velocity, the wings and tail may suddenly flare out as the bird negotiates what seems like a right angle to home in on fleeing prey.

In recent years, more and more Missourians are having the chance to witness this bird's thrilling flight. Throughout most of this century, breeding falcons were not found in Missouri. But now, the birds are staying around, and some lucky residents of our state's three largest cities can see them daily. The reason? One of the most successful wildlife restoration efforts ever conducted.

Peregrine falcons were once much rarer, and some populations were near the brink of extinction. Only a few peregrines passed through Missouri in spring and fall as they traveled between Canadian and South American summer and winter ranges. Fear of extinction-plus the fascination that many people have for this bird-led to a laborious recovery effort that has brought this species back.

People who work to save endangered species are often troubled when some species don't get the attention they deserve because they lack appeal. The peregrine falcon is certainly on the opposite end of that spectrum. Most people avidly took to the peregrine falcon and rallied for it.

Falconers have always been on the side of the peregrine falcon. Even in ancient times, this species was prized by kings and noblemen for its aerial agility and its ability to take down game as large as pheasants. In the mid-20th century, when the number of peregrine falcons dropped as a result of pesticide poisoning, an organization of falconers were the first to come to their rescue. Using the falconers' technique of "hacking," which usually is used to make captive-reared birds more skilled at hunting by giving them a few days or weeks in the wild, peregrine falcons were bred in captivity and hacked to remain permanently in the wild.

After some early failures with birds released into natural habitats, biologists discovered that cities seemed optimum environments for newly flying, inexperienced youngsters. Concrete jungles harbor few great horned owls-predators of young peregrines-and urban

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