Open Access
How to translate text using browser tools
1 April 2006 Peregrine Falcon: Stories of the Blue Meanie
Roland C. Clement
Author Affiliations +

The following critiques express the opinions of the individual evaluators regarding the strengths, weaknesses, and value of the books they review. As such, the appraisals are subjective assessments and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or any official policy of the American Ornithologists' Union.

Jim Enderson. 2005. University of Texas Press, Austin. 253 pp., 15 black-and-white photographs, one map, and 24 pencil sketches. ISBN 0-292-70624-3. Cloth, $65.00; paper, $22.95.—A beautiful book rescues a slice of history from oblivion. Jim Enderson has accomplished that for us in this slim, 7-inch by 10-inch volume. It is partly a history of falconry and the Peregrine Falcon recovery program, part personal account of his own participation in these activities, and part reflection on the human adventure this foremost 20th-century conservation accomplishment represents.

Though the imprint was delayed a decade or more, Enderson, like many others, was attracted to raptorial birds by artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes's article in National Geographic, published in 1920, titled “Falconry: The Sport of Kings.”

The first chapter, “The Nature of the Falcon,” is a lover's paean to that great bird, called “Blue Meanie” by another distinguished fancier, Grainger Hunt. While at Cornell in 1950, I came to know the other core members of that coterie of falconers and others who would rescue the Peregrine Falcon from the brink: Tom Cade, who became doyen of the recovery program; Richard Fyfe of Canada, who first proposed a Peregrine Falcon breeding project in 1967; Joe Hager, who alerted us to the fact that his Massachusetts Peregrine Falcons were eating their eggs; Joe Hickey, who brought all of us together at a Madison, Wisconsin, conference in 1965; Heinz Meng, who helped Cade get started in breeding falcons; and later, Derek Ratcliffe of England, who first identified the thin-eggshell syndrome.

Indeed, it was on a detour through Colorado Springs in 1973 to see Enderson's small breeding program that I became convinced that if the Peregrine Falcon was to survive the DDT-DDE poison crisis, only the falconers could help it do so. Despite some internal opposition, I was able to add the National Audubon Society's support to the larger recovery program.

Chapter nine is a concise history of falconry in North America, most of it post-World War II.

Enderson has a light touch, and his 14-plus chapters are all informative and captivating. A friend of his, Robert Katona, provided a score of lovely pencil portraits of the Peregrine Falcon, on the fist and in the sky. A few photographs round out the record.

With characteristic modesty, he refuses credit for helping “save” the Peregrine Falcon. Of course, the monumental effort of some half-dozen breeding programs involved in releasing and “hacking” some 6,500 captive-bred birds of speeded recovery. In the process, a new behavioral type, the urban Peregrine Falcon, was created. But this too was restoration, given that Peregrine Falcons nested on castles and cathedrals in Europe in Medieval days.

The threat was real, however, and we had to act. Even so, given time, and the Peregrine Falcon's far-flung distribution as a nesting bird, Enderson reminds us that it would probably have recovered and re-established itself when we stopped poisoning the environment with fat-soluble, food-chain-contaminating chemical pesticides like DDT and Dieldrin. We accomplished that in 1973 in the United States, so those who helped bring that about also helped “save” the bird.

On page 3, Paul Mueller is credited with synthesizing the molecule of DDT in 1939. This was apparently done by a German chemist, Othmar Ziedler, in 1874, who, however, saw no practical use for it. What Mueller did, working for Geigy in 1939 and the early 1940s, was to show that DDT killed potato beetles and clothes moths.

Eager for an effective insecticide early in World War II, the U. S. military seized upon this discovery and funded the research-and-development costs of mass-producing a new insecticide, which it then used to great advantage in Europe and Africa and in the Pacific theater of operations. At first used as a powder, DDT prevented typhus outbreaks. Our troubles began when it was used with a solvent for aerial application. But a war was on.

After the war, DDT was released for civilian use in agriculture, forestry, and mosquito control. It became the “magic bullet” for most insect control. It was cheap, because its research-and-development costs had been borne by the government. But, inadvertently at first, it poisoned the world. Ironically, its most important use, in public health programs such as malaria control, was made ineffective because mosquitos developed resistance, thanks to widespread use.

On page 151, I am given undue credit for “greasing the skids” for a small grant by the New York Zoological Society. William G. Conway, that superlative director of the Bronx Zoo, recognized a promising investment when he saw one.

On page 192, we are given a fascinating glimpse into the information “glitches” that all too often plague even our best efforts. In 1979, an AOU committee, no less, resolved that only those captive falcons bred from native stock should be released to the wild. Otherwise, native ecosystems and gene pools would be compromised, we were told. There were two great ironies to this inept activism (let alone that when captive breeding was initiated, there were no native Peregrine Falcons left in the East).

First, Bud Tordoff, one of the most active midwestern participants in the Peregrine Falcon recovery program, was president of the AOU at the time. He belatedly objected, pointing out that the environment itself would shape the population by selecting those birds fit to survive. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at last agreed the following year. But many of us thought that this question of breeding stock “purity” had been resolved in 1974 at an Audubon conference designed to help the USFWS overcome its difficulties with this very question. Here, William H. Drury, Jr., one of 35 participants, convinced us that nature would do the selecting if we provided the birds.

We thought we had made our case when the USFWS proceeded to appoint recovery teams. We promptly published the results of that Audubon conference, held in Greenwich, Connecticut, and thought we had made a reasonable distribution of complimentary copies to key people. But enough is often not enough.

This book belongs next to Cade and Burnham's Return of the Peregrine in any library intent on chronicling what is probably the greatest conservation story of the 20th century.

Roland C. Clement "Peregrine Falcon: Stories of the Blue Meanie," The Auk 123(2), 608-609, (1 April 2006).[608:PFSOTB]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 April 2006
Back to Top