Nope: Peregrines not saved by DDT ban, either

Dr. William Hornaday of the New York Zoological Society referred to [peregrine falcons] as birds that “deserve death, but are so rare that we need not take them into account” — in 1913.

In a story about the annual Audubon Society Christmas bird count, the Sacramento Bee writes,

… Even more incredible is the story of the falcon’s recovery from near-extinction, a story the Christmas Bird Count has helped document.

Decimated in the 1960s by the pesticide DDT, the peregrine was put on the endangered species list in 1973.

Harper, who has participated in the Christmas Bird Count for four decades, said one year in the 1970s created a stir when a counter thought she saw the first peregrine to return to the area. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a ceramic rendering.

After DDT was banned, the peregrine began a slow recovery. It was removed from Endangered Species Act protection in 1999, and now there are more than 2,000 known nesting sites across the nation…

Except as pointed out in “100 Things You Should Know About DDT“:

78. The decline in the U.S. peregrine falcon population occurred long before the DDT years. [Hickey JJ. 1942. (Only 170 pairs of peregrines in eastern U.S. in 1940) Auk 59:176; Hickey JJ. 1971 Testimony at DDT hearings before EPA hearing examiner. (350 pre-DDT peregrines claimed in eastern U.S., with 28 of the females sterile); and Beebe FL. 1971. The Myth of the Vanishing Peregrine Falcon: A study in manipulation of public and official attitudes. Canadian Raptor Society Publication, 31 pages]

79. Peregrine falcons were deemed undesirable in the early 20th century. Dr. William Hornaday of the New York Zoological Society referred to them as birds that “deserve death, but are so rare that we need not take them into account.” [Hornaday, WT. 1913. Our Vanishing Wild Life. New York Zoological Society, p. 226]

80. Oologists amassed great collections of falcon eggs. [Peterson, RT. 1948. Birds Over American, Dodd Mead & Co., NY, pp 135-151; Rice, JN. 1969. In Peregrine Falcon Populations, Univ. Of Wisconsin Press, pp 155-164; Berger, DD. 1969. In Peregrine Falcon Populations, Univ. Of Wisconsin Press, pp 165-173]

81. The decline in falcons along the Hudson River was attributed to falconers, egg collectors, pigeon fanciers and disturbance by construction workers and others. [Herbert, RA and KG Herbert. 1969. In Peregrine Falcon Populations, Univ. Of Wisconsin Press, pp 133- 154. (Also in Auk 82: 62-94)]

82. The 1950′s and 1960′s saw continuing harassment trapping brooding birds in their nests, removing fat samples for analysis and operating time-lapse cameras beside the nests for extended periods of time), predation and habitat destruction. [Hazeltine, WE. 1972. Statement before Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, March 16, 1972; Enderson, JH and DD Berger. 1968. (Chlorinated hydrocarbons in peregrines from Northern Canada). Condor 70:149-153; Enderson, JH.. 1972. (Time lapse photography in
peregrine nests) Living Bird 11: 113- 128; Risebrough, RW. 1970. (Organochlorines in peregrines and merlins migrating through Wisconsin). Canadian Field-Naturalist 84:247-253]

83. Changes in climate (higher temperatures and decreasing precipitation) were blamed for the gradual disappearance of peregrines from the Rocky Mountains. [Nelson, MW. 1969. Peregrine Falcon Populations, pp 61-72]

84. Falconers were blamed for decimating western populations. [Herman, S. 1969. Peregrine Falcon Populations, University of Wisconsin Press]

85. During the 1960′s, peregrines in northern Canada were “reproducing normally,” even though they contained 30 times more DDT, DDD, and DDE than the midwestern peregrines that were allegedly extirpated by those chemicals. [Enderson, JH and DD Berger. 1968. (Chlorinated hydrocarbons in peregrines from Northern Canada) Condor 70:170-178]

86. There was no decline in peregrine falcon pairs in Canada and Alaska between 1950 and 1967 despite the presence of DDT and DDE. [Fyfe, RW. 1959. Peregrine Falcon Populations, pp 101-114; and Fyfe, RW. 1968. Auk 85: 383-384]

87. The peregrine with the very highest DDT residue (2,435 parts per million) was found feeding three healthy young. [Enderson, JH. 1968. (Pesticide residues in Alaska and Yukon Territory) Auk 85: 683]

88. Shooting, egg collecting, falconry and disruption of nesting birds along the Yukon River and Colville River were reported to be the cause of the decline in peregrine falcon population.
[Beebe, FL. 1971. The Myth of the Vanishing Peregrine Falcon: A study in manipulation of public and official attitudes. Canadian Raptor Society Publication, 31 pages; and Beebe, FL. 1975. Brit Columbia Provincial Museum Occas. Paper No. 17, pages 126-144]

89. The decline in British peregrine falcons ended by 1966, though DDT was as abundant as ever. The Federal Advisory Committee on Pesticides concluded “There is no close correlation between the declines in populations of predatory birds, particularly the peregrine falcon and the sparrow hawk, and the use of DDT.” [Wilson report. 1969. Review of Organochlorine pesticides in Britain. Report by the Advisory Committee on toxic chemicals. Department of Education and Science]

90. During 1940-1945, the British Air Ministry shot about 600 peregrines (half the pre-1939 level) to protect carrier pigeons.

91. Peregrine falcon and sparrow hawk egg shells thinned in Britain prior to the use of DDT. [Redcliff, DH. 1967. Nature 215: 208-210; Redcliff, DH. 1970 J Applied Biology 7:67; and Redcliff, DH. 1967. Nature 215: 208-210]

Read JunkScience.com’s “100 Things You Should Know About DDT.”

5 thoughts on “Nope: Peregrines not saved by DDT ban, either”

  1. Rich Kozlovich, I am not sure if you would consider me to be a “greenie”, as some of the positions I take are “leftie”, while others are “rightie”. Regardless, I pose this question: besides wanting to save various species from extinction, what other agenda could someone have with wanting to remove DDT from the environment? I don’t think I ever came across a person who loved mosquitoes. Knowing that DDT was quite effective at controlling various species of mosquitoes, I am sure all people -lefties and righties alike, would have hoped that DDT could be used indefinitely. Sadly, that was not the case. There has been plenty of scientific data collected that supports the notion that DDT was one (yes one) reason for the falcon population decline. (By the way, lefties don’t deny there were other reasons too, but DDT was one of the things that we humans could control.) Thus, the government was right to ban the use of DDT. This was a win for mosquitoes and other small insects, a win for organisms that feed upon these insects, but a necessary loss for humans and other animals that are pestered by these organisms.

    And your comment, “Reality is meaningless to ideology?” You have me scratching me head on that one. What more reality do we need? Falcons (and other birds) were on the decline. Scientists noticed that eggs were breaking before hatching. Tissue was collected from adult birds. Higher than normal levels of DDT were found in the tissue. Some scientists hypothesized that DDT was somehow weakening the strength of egg shells. Adult birds were brought into lab settings -without DDT. Adult birds layed eggs that successfully hatched. The hypothesis gained support. Further tests showed the same results. Action was taken (based on data…not some conspiracy.) The Peregrine Falcon populations have rebounded. Ecosystems rebounded (with the return of this important top predator.)

    If you do not trust that science prevailed here….if you think the “greenies” had some other agenda….then go conduct some science of your own! Get the funding, purchase your birds, provide them food with DDT, and prove to us all that DDT does NOT harm the eggs. By all means, if you know and understand science, then you know that we are always open to the POSSIBILITY that we’ve got it wrong. And that, my friend, is reality.

  2. As a website advocating a scientific approach it is a little startling that this article appears to attempt to apply a simplistic cause and affect argument to something as complex as an organisms interaction with an ecosystem.
    Many studies- beyond Falco peregrinus and the top predator preference of studies- have found sublethal effects can have a deleterious impact upon a species.

  3. It is important so that our society recognizes that ‘animal behaviour’ biology has proven the ‘King’ of Junk Science. ‘Biologists’ continue to rip us off in the name of ‘ saving’ endangered species. Crusaders looking to scam us to line their own pockets and fund their careers.
    Environmentalists seem to shrug this off as the cost of doing business, ignorance of fundamentalism. This is the worst kind of evil, veiled in the
    pre tense of doing good.
    That is why this issue continues to be of importance. It is not about better chemicals.
    As an aside, there has never been a documented decline in ANY raptor
    population due to use in falconry. More junk!

  4. The points you have provided would be infinitely more persuasive if they weren’t all pre-1970, this was during the time where dumping gas into lakes was ok because “Dilution is the Solution” and duck and cover would save you from an atomic bomb. Nearly all research post 1980 agrees that DDT played a role in the population crash of several bird species, not just the Peregrine. Was it the only reason? Of course not, egg collection and falconry was a major factor, but DDT played a part. I am simply saying using more recent research and studies will validate your claims much better than something from 1965. But I am slightly confused why this is even important anymore? We have developed much more effective and cheaper products that do the something that DDT did?

  5. Thank you for posting this once again. Of course it really doesn’t seem to matter to the modern druids of green neo-paganism and their acolytes who support the ban on DDT. No matter what evidence is produced they will still claim the opposite. The greenies and the lefties have one thing in common. Reality is meaningless to ideology. The greenies are true minions of Lysenkoism and mymirdons of the left.

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