Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Peregrine Fund: Saving the birds of prey of the world

The Peregrine Fund logo
The Peregrine Fund was founded in 1970 by Tom Cade, an ornithology professor at Cornell University, to save the peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus, which had nearly disappeared through the western United States, and reintroduce it back into the eastern United States.  A captive breeding program including offspring reintroduction was initiated and was wildly successful.  Consequently, the Peregrine Fund now can focus their energies towards saving other birds of prey species and has helped save ~100 raptor species (and also some non-raptors, like the critically endangered Madagascar pochard Aythya innotata).  The Peregrine Fund run the World Center for Birds of Prey (WCBP), a breeding center and a zoo which only has birds of prey (much like the International Crane Foundation has a breeding center and zoo which specializes just on crane species) and breed large numbers of species like California condors Gymnogyps californianus, Aplomado falcons Falco femoralis, bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Mauritius kestrels Falco punctatus, and many more.

One current captive breeding program at the Peregrine Fund is the California condor program.  During 1982 there were only 22 California condors left. They brought all condors into captivity so an intensive captive breeding program could build their numbers, and there are now 369 California condors, including 192 wild birds.  At 66 birds, the condor flock at the Peregrine Fund's WCBP releases the most condors into the wild (the Oregon Zoo, San Diego Zoo, and LA Zoo also breed condors through the program).
Release of California condors into the wild
The Peregrine Fund's international field conservation projects are also very important.  Over the past decade vulture populations over the Indian subcontinent have plummeted because a drug (diclofenac) which dying cattle are given poisons vultures when they eat the dead cattle (in particular Oriental white-backed or white-rumped vultures Gyps bengalensis, long-billed or Indian vultures Gyps indicus, and slender-billed vultures Gyps tenuirostris).  The Peregrine Fund was vital in discovering the vulture population crash's source and subsequently getting the drug outlawed.  Unfortunately, the population declines have continued, which suggests the drug is still used.
African fish eagle Haliaeetus vocifer and steppe eagle Aquila  nipalensis at Lake Bogoria, Kenya
Over and above captive breeding raptors which will be released into the wild and wild raptor protection, the Peregrine Fund has an active research wing, especially concerning declining raptor populations.  Their research into African fish eagle declines determine the best ways to focus conservation efforts to reverse declines before the situation reaches the point the California condor was at when the last few birds were brought into captivity.
The Peregrine Fund's African fish eagle project
I have been incredibly fortunate and have seen wild California condors and African fish eagles.  Unfortunately, most birds of prey species' populations are decreasing, some precipitously so, and if we don't act soon many species will not be around long.  Do investigate the various ways you can help them: support them financially, volunteer at the WCBP or through their international projects, or install an American kestrel nestbox.

Interested in learning more about birds of prey?  Check out the following links/books:

The Peregrine Fund has an online database with information concerning 333 species of raptors from around the world.

Handbook of the Birds of the World volume 2
The Handbook of the Birds of the World: Volume 2 New World Vultures to Guineafowl.  This volume covers the Falconiformes and the Galliformes.  This set of books is the most complete source of information concerning every species of bird in the world.

small version
Raptors of the World by Ferguson-Lees and Christie
large version
Raptors of the World by James Ferguson-Lees and David Christie is an incredibly comprehensive collation of all of the raptors of the world.  It comes in two forms: a small (320 pages) version that is essentially a field guide, and a larger (992 pages) version with everything you could ever want to know about each species.  Be sure you are purchasing the one that you mean to get.

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  1. I remember professor Tom Cade when I went to Cornell University. I was just researching birds of prey and stumbled on this. What a small world.

  2. thanks for interesting article. useful information.

  3. Hi Thomas,

    I was referred here by my friend who loves birds and I say you're an amazing blogger. I love posts for a cause. I think you have the most amazing job in the world! I will stick around and read everything you wrote :)

    ~ Jullianne