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Tettegouche celebrates 30 years of peregrines

Titan, a 1-year-old male arctic peregrine falcon, sits on his perch in front of a piece of artwork celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first wild nesting peregrine falcon pair in Minnesota. A special peregrine falcon celebration was held at Tettegouche State Park on June 16 to mark the 30th anniversary. (Teri Cadeau/News Chronicle)1 / 3
Wolf Ridge Executive Director Peter Smerud shows off the box first used to collect the first wild peregrine fledglings recorded in Minnesota since the population decline in the 1970s. The "peregrine elevator" was eventually replaced with a fabric-covered model. (Teri Cadeau/News Chronicle)2 / 3
Gear used by peregrine recovery workers was on display at Tettegouche State Park on June 16. (Teri Cadeau/News Chronicle)3 / 3

A celebration was held at Tettegouche State Park in Silver Bay on June 16 to mark the 30th anniversary of the recovery of the peregrine falcon population. Peregrine-related events were held at the park, including a bird photography workshop and a talk from several individuals involved in the peregrine recovery efforts.

"We're here to celebrate the recovery of a species," Tettegouche interpretive naturalist Kurt Mead said.

Jackie Fallon, Minnesota state coordinator for the Midwest Peregrine Society, spoke about the history of the recovery efforts. Before 1988, the peregrine falcon population was on the decline. There were no recorded nesting pairs of peregrine falcons in Minnesota in the 1970s due to the use of the pesticide DDT.

When DDT was banned in 1972, several groups joined together to begin recovery efforts to increase the wild peregrine population. The first few attempts failed due to fellow prey birds, such as the great horned owl, killing the young peregrines released in the wild. Each peregrine was expensive to raise, so recovery efforts were stalled until a new funding source could be found.

Enter the nongame wildlife checkoff on Minnesota tax forms. This was a new way to fund recovery efforts in the 1980s by adding a box to the tax form, Minnesotans could donate part of their refund, or make a direct donation if they owed taxes, to the Minnesota nongame wildlife program. Part of that money went to the peregrine falcon recovery effort.

The fledgling peregrines, which came from breeders, were raised as distantly as possible. Hatchlings were fed from tubes at first. As the birds developed, researches stapled dead quails to boards as a way of teaching them how to use their talons to rip open food. This time, in 1985, when the birds were released, a few of them came back.

By 1988, the first nesting pair was found at the cliffs of Palisade Head. Wolf Ridge Executive Director Peter Smerud was among the group of climbers tasked with rappelling down to the nest to retrieve the first fledglings to be banded and have their blood tested.

"I remember them lowering down the first peregrine elevator, which was this cardboard box that we pulled the babies up in," Smerud said. "It was just cardboard and duct tape. Now, when they do this, they have a fancy, and much safer, fabric-covered box."

Smerud also recalls they didn't have a technique to get the climber back up the cliff. So a kayak was attached to the bottom of the climber's rope and it went down before him. When he was done, the kayak was lowered into the water before him, then the climber got in the boat and paddled out.

Today, there are over 25 nesting couples along the North Shore alone and peregrines are no longer on the endangered species list.

"It's so rewarding to see recovery efforts pay off like this," Fallon said. "Most of my job is conflict resolution. I have to go and tell people, no, you can't continue construction with nesting birds in that building. I travel a lot of miles in a short amount of time every spring. But it's worth it when you get to hold the babies and see the recovery."

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. 

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