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Successful Peregrine Reintroduction is Focus of New Bell Museum Exhibit

Forty years ago peregrine falcons were at a low point worldwide — their eggshells thinned by the pesticide DDT. Today, the fierce raptors are an emblem for successful wildlife reintroductions. Their dramatic turnaround is highlighted in the newest exhibition at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum.

Peregrine Falcon: From Endangered Species to Urban Bird” tells the incredible story of the citizens, scientists, and birds that brought these raptors back from the brink of extinction.  Now a relatively common sight in the Upper Midwest, peregrines continue to be introduced in cities across North America.

“With our help, they’re thriving in urban environments that experts thought would never support peregrines and certainly not in the population densities we see today,” said the Bell Museum’s Jennifer Menken, who organized the exhibition. “The peregrines have proven themselves very adaptable to the human environment.”

Live birds will be on display at events held in conjunction with the exhibit—see the Bell Museum’s website for details. The exhibit profiles the “celebrity” falcons that have repopulated our skies while thrilling thousands of admirers with their aerial aerobatics. It also discusses the pros and cons of intensive, large scale wildlife reintroduction efforts.

The exhibition opens October 3 and is on display through January 3. It was produced in cooperation with the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, the Midwest Peregrine Society, and The Peregrine Fund. Admission, hours and location information for the Bell Museum can be found online at www.bellmuseum.umn.edu or by calling 612-626-9660.

About peregrine falcons
Peregrine falcons nest on every continent except Antarctica. Considered the fastest animal on earth, peregrines live in some of the wildest and most inaccessible places on Earth.

After World War II, peregrine falcons suddenly began to disappear from North America and Europe. By the 1960s they seemed headed for extinction. By the 1970s, the peregrine became a warning sentinel for environmental contamination—in this case, by DDT.

Peregrines were susceptible to the ill effects of DDT through a process known as biomagnification. Consider that a two-pound peregrine needs to eat hundreds of birds in its lifetime. These birds, in turn, eat thousands of insects. These insects together have eaten tons of plants. The DDT in those plants becomes concentrated in the peregrine. The pesticide thinned their eggshells, which were crushed during incubation under the weight of adult peregrines.

Across North America, peregrine populations have surpassed historic estimates. But there have been disappointments and surprises. Peregrines have always nested on wild, windswept cliffs. Before their population crashed, only a few peregrines nested on tall city buildings. As recovery efforts have led to increasing numbers of free-living peregrines, some of the greatest successes have been in urban areas.

Today, peregrines in Western North America still live largely in the wild. In Eastern North America, peregrines have not returned to some of their original range, but about 20 percent of all nesting peregrines live in cities. In the Midwest, two thirds of all pairs are urban dwellers, and nearly 75 percent nest on man-made structures such as downtown office buildings, power plant steam stacks, grain elevators, and bridges—areas where they never were before humans intervened to help them establish new nesting sites.


Additional Photos (click on images for high resolution)


These breeding range maps for peregrine falcons in North America illustrate the species brush with extinction in the mid-1970s. Citizens and scientists helped the bird adapt to urban environments. (Courtesy Bell Museum of Natural History and CartoGraphics, Inc.)

1940 Map
1975 Map
2015 Map


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