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Positive News For Well-Known Canadian Bird

Designated as an endangered species in 1978, the falcon was almost eliminated from much of North America because of the effects of the pesticide DDT. — Brian Ratcliff photo

One of Canada’s well-recognized raptors, the peregrine falcon, has made a remarkable comeback from the brink of extinction. 

The Nature Conservancy of Canada says it is a positive sign that conservation efforts are working and that maintaining habitat is now crucial in their continued recovery.

The conservation status of the peregrine falcon has been assessed as “not at risk” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Designated as an endangered species in 1978, the falcon was almost eliminated from much of North America because of the effects of the pesticide DDT.

Following a phase-out  of the chemical in North America the 1970s, along with a captive breeding program, populations have recovered to the point the committee says the falcon is no longer at risk. Population numbers have increased to throughout most of Canada and the species recolonized much of its former range, including urban habitats. Only the sub-species of falcon found along Canada’s west coast is still considered at risk. The peregrine falcon is known to fly at remarkable speeds up to 320 kilometres per hour. It preys on other birds that it catches in mid-flight.

Dan Kraus, senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, says there are many things we can do to ensure that the species’ recovery continues. Actions include continuing to monitor the impacts of other toxic chemicals on peregrine falcons, and protecting their nesting sites.

“Peregrine falcons nest on cliff ledges or tall structures, where they are safe from predators and human activity. Although the birds may abandon their nest if disturbed by people, they are proving to be incredibly adaptive,” said Kraus. The peregrine falcon now nests in urban habitats, and can often be seen in cities. “I’ve now seen more peregrine falcons in cities than I have in the wild,” says Kraus, it’s an amazing bird that many Canadians can now experience.”

Kraus points out that “it should be a reminder that we can recover endangered species. There are over 25 species that have been delisted by COSEWIC including the American white pelican, southern flying squirrel and humpback whale (Western North Atlantic population).Our biggest challenge now is to protect and recovery species that are threatened by habitat loss.”

Peregrine falcons have been documented on over 20 Nature Conservancy of Canada properties across the country. They include:

  • Big Trout Bay, Wilson and Caribou Island on Lake Superior, and the Frontenac Arch in south-eastern Ontario.  
  • In Quebec, they have been observed on NCC properties in the Eastern Townships, the Gaspe region, in Prévost, on sites near Montmagny, at Papineau Lake and on the Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
  • Peregrine falcons are also found in western Canada including NCC lands in the Missouri Coteau in Saskatchewan and in the South Selkirk Mountains of BC.

One of the best places to view the peregrine falcon is the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick where it nests and feeds at the NCC’s Johnson's Mills Shorebird Reserve.

In BC, the sub-species of the peregrine falcon is still listed under special concern. This sub-species has been observed on some of NCC’s lands on the West Coast.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is the nation's leading land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect 2.8 million acres (more than 1.1 million hectares), coast to coast, including including almost one million acres (400,000 hectares) in British Columbia.