Perched on a cedar snag high on a rocky bluff, a young Peregrine falcon watches over his new domain. His keen eyes gaze over the wide expanse of the Mississippi River. He can see for miles from this lofty spot, and he watches for any unsuspecting songbird who might cross the river. In the open space over the river, a small bird has nowhere to hide and must depend on its speed and agility to evade a fast-flying hawk.
Having survived his first winter, the young falcon has already proven his hunting abilities. He must have found a place in his South American winter home where there was plenty of food. Now he seizes an opportunity to feed again as a pair of blue jays cross the river. He spreads his long, pointed wings and soars high above his prey. The jays see him but can do only try to make it to cover before the falcon strikes. The instinctively know that it is futile to try to outdistance the falcon, and the only other alternative is to dive to the river.
The predator swoops from a height so as to approach his prey with maximum speed. The blue jays wait until the last instant to dodge the sharp falcon talons. Their remarkable agility saves their lives, and they make a hasty retreat to shore before the falcon recovers. The young falcon has too much natural ability to end up hungry for long, though; before sunset he dines on a grackle who was not as quick or fortunate as the jays.
The noble Peregrine falcons made their summer home on the bluffs of the upper Mississippi for centuries, but were wiped out by the early 1970s. The culprit? DDT and other persistent insecticides. Songbirds ate contaminated insects, so when falcons ate the songbirds they ingested concentrated doses of the poisons. DDT made the birds' eggshells so thin that they would break from the weight of the incubating adult. With no young surviving each year, the Peregrines disappeared within a decade.
The persistent chemicals were finally banned, saving the few remaining pairs of falcons in the continental U.S. Today, thanks to the continuous efforts of dedicated scientists and knowledgeable falconers, the Peregrine is making a slow comeback.
The story of the Peregrine falcon is another testament to the importance of organic farming. Harsh chemicals used in conventional agriculture can have unintended and potentially devastating consequences throughout the food chain.
The young Peregrine falcon I observed will soon molt his brown, immature feathers and replace them with the black-gray plumage of an adult. Hopefully he will find a mate and raise a family in an area high in the rocky bluffs along the upper Mississippi.
These days in southwest Wisconsin, the snow that comes lasts only a matter of hours, quickly melting in the warmth. It's a beautiful first day of spring here. The temperature has risen to the mid-50s, causing a flurry of new migrants to appear. Warm weather means open water, so wild wood ducks and mallards are showing up here and there. A Great Blue heron has returned to the shallows along the backwaters of the Kickapoo River. The Canada geese have paired off and begun their nesting duties in the scattered muskrat marshes. In a month, the little goslings will be seen swimming along behind their mothers, while the gander keeps a watchful eye nearby.
The first phoebe sings his name from the peak of the shed. I'm looking forward to hearing that song all summer.
All art ©2013 Organic Valley