Open Access
1 July 2006 Return of the Peregrine: A North American Saga of Tenacity and Teamwork
Daniel W. Anderson
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.

Edited by Tom J. Cade and William Burnham. 2003. The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho. 394 pp., many illustrations and photographs. ISBN 0-9619839- 3-0. Cloth, $59.50.—This book is a compendium of chapters and side-bars. Some are more technical than others, all are interesting and personal, and some also provide useful historical anecdotes. The authors were all directly involved in a huge effort (perhaps like none seen before) to understand the decline of a single bird species. The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) was in danger of extirpation throughout much of its worldwide range. There was also the possibility of extinction. None of this was alarmism. Return of the Peregrine is also the encouraging story of a carefully orchestrated recovery.

The account may be perceived as one-sided, and it is—as the editors state. If one were to read only Peakall (1993) and this book, one might get the mistaken impression that the entire story of discovery of contaminant effects, species endangerment, and remediation in wild birds happened solely with the Peregrine Falcon. Work on other species of raptors—Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), American Kestrel (F. sparverius), Merlin (F. columbarius), and many others—as well as innumerable other bird species—played equally into the larger scenario. Yet no bird species, not even our national symbol, received as much attention and awe as the Peregrine Falcon. As to where the peregrine mystique comes from, it is easily understood by anyone who has direct experience of Peregrine Falcons. In conservation, we need this “magic” as much as we need the hard data. And nearly every ornithologist I know has a special attraction to some particular avian group. I believe this bond helps make avian conservation successful. Those devoted to Peregrine Falcons have expressed this as well as could be.

Return of the Peregrine is not a comprehensive story of conservation biology and ecotoxicology in the 20th century. But an inspiring case-history in 20th-century conservation it certainly is. Experiences with the Peregrine Falcon have led to many current efforts in conservation. For example, recovery of the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) has moved in the same directions, modeled largely on the Peregrine Falcon effort (see Snyder and Snyder 2000). Another outcome, in my opinion, is the emerging explanation of a widespread crash in numbers of vultures (Gyps spp.) on the Indian subcontinent (related to diclofenac, a widely used veterinary medicine; Oaks et al. 2004, Risebrough 2004, Anonymous 2005).

The collective perspective from the many diverse contributors to Return of the Peregrine is unique, and it represents their monumental contributions to a truly successful effort—from start to finish: population decline, problems identified, suitable techniques rapidly developed and refined, a restoration effort begun before it is too late, troubled populations beginning to recover, and finally, wild populations becoming self-sustaining again—next problem! If only it were that simple; but these advances do not happen overnight. They involve efforts and commitments over lifetimes, huge personal commitments, and long-term devotions to a cause. This book describes such a web of involvements regarding the Peregrine Falcon.

In the early 1960s, there was great concern about the population status of many bird species. The events chronicled in Return of the Peregrine happened when modern management approaches, now routine, were just emerging. Developments around the Peregrine Falcon effort undoubtedly contributed importantly to these. But given the somewhat frightening degradation of conservation policies under present- day national guidance (Pope and Rauber 2004; see, Return of the Peregrine is a must-read for encouraging our next generation of conservationists. Key elements in the still ongoing recovery were “tenacity and teamwork,” perpetual optimism, and a consistent, decade-after-decade “make it happen” attitude. As William Ruckelshaus (a hero in the book and USEPA Administrator in 1972, when DDT was banned) said,

When you're faced with seemingly insurmountable or intractable problems, you can either stew about them, convince yourselves that they can't be solved, or you can break them down into practical and solvable problems.

The book discusses the roles of such notable figures as Joe Hickey, Cade and Burnham, Derek Ratcliffe, Lucille and Bill Stickel, Bob Risebrough, Dave Peakall, and Ian Newton, just to mention a few. The recovery was also boosted by the pioneering efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service. It was an international, multi-organizational effort. There were also the contributions of others in a “second generation” in the Peregrine Falcon recovery who expanded on the original efforts or started new research and conservation projects. Among them: Chuck Henny, Keith Hobson, Stan Temple, Lloyd Kiff, Brian Walton, Clayton White, and many others. The “pedigree” and outreach associated with the Peregrine Falcon recovery is long and wide.

Return of the Peregrine describes a movement that has also involved many public and private organizations; central among these were the Raptor Research Foundation (founded in 1966) and The Peregrine Fund. Many federal and state governmental agencies had critical roles in keeping the entire effort afloat, especially through the federal and state Endangered Species acts. There were also many important private sources of funding. Thousands of people (really more like tens of thousands) were involved in one way or another. In their entirety, the contributors were an unlikely but united mix of scientists, politicians, policymakers, volunteers, birdwatchers, wildlife artists, falconers, and egg collectors. Lots of politicking, handshaking, and public-relations activities brought it home. The effort aroused enthusiasm and support from presidents, senators and congressmen, agency directors and managers, corporate heads, and movie stars. Thousands of volunteer naturalists sat for hours on end observing, recording data, protecting hack sites and newly occupied eyries, and caring for captive birds. Many of those volunteers have since become biologists themselves. Incredibly, everybody embraced this cause as if it were a national goal—and maybe it was.

Most readers will not go through this book cover-to-cover, but will come back to it again and again. The paintings and drawings that illustrate the book are excellent. Quotations and picture-narratives succinctly summarize many of the key ideas in the written narratives. The stories are often written in the author's voice, as if that person were talking; this makes for enjoyable, easy reading. However, one has to be patient with some of the inevitable redundancy inherent in a compendium of this type. Many of the articles contain useful and valuable reference data along with authoritative insights and analyses (e.g., Newton's chapter 20) and the book is loaded with interesting historical facts. I especially appreciated Burnham and Cade's reproductions of Clayton White's maps of North American Peregrine Falcon distribution over time (chapter 21). Those three maps speak volumes. Chapter 19, by a notable group of authors, gives accounts and anecdotes of notable individual Peregrine Falcons, aptly illustrating the personal affection that raptor researchers and enthusiasts have for “their birds.”

I hope the publishers have printed enough copies. This compendium needs to be in the libraries of conservationists, ornithologists, and bird-lovers. It nicely brings the science and the passion of nature conservation together, as it should be. There is no end to this story.

Literature Cited


Anonymous 2005. India to ban diclofenac. World Birdwatch 27:4. Google Scholar


others 2004. Diclofenac residues as the cause of vulture population decline in Pakistan. Nature 427:630–633. Google Scholar


D. B. Peakall 1993. DDE-induced eggshell thinning: An environmental detective story. Environmental Reviews 1:13–20. Google Scholar


C. Pope and P. Rauber . 2004. Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco. Google Scholar


R. Risebrough 2004. Fatal medicine for vultures. Nature 427:596–598. Google Scholar


N. Snyder and H. Snyder . 2000. The California Condor: A Saga of Natural History and Conservation. Academic Press, San Diego, California. Google Scholar


Daniel W. Anderson "Return of the Peregrine: A North American Saga of Tenacity and Teamwork," The Auk 123(3), 918-920, (1 July 2006).[918:ROTPAN]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 July 2006
Back to Top