Peregrines as Canaries

Peregrine Falcons, one of the most magnificent hunters of the animal kingdom, may actually be especially important as a measuring stick for humans’ effects on Earth. Like the proverbial Canary (not the Parakeet) in the mine, Peregrines might be indicators of dangerous conditions in the larger environment.

I’m not an expert about epidemiology, ornithology, environmental contaminants, effects of biochemical products, or other relevant areas of science, do my observations are surely amateuristic. I am, however, a person who’s had the chance to see Peregrine Falcons in the wild—migrating, perched with a kill in the claw—and to marvel at their reputed strength and speed. I am also old enough to remember when the survival of the species was in question. Thanks to Rachel Carson and her ilk, we humans realized that our pesticides—in particular, DDT—were culprits in a threat to birds and we changed our behavior so that there hasn’t yet been a “Silent Spring.” Since the 1970s, nesting populations of Peregrines have recovered; indeed, many cities now stream Webcam images of Peregrines nesting on skyscrapers.

But current research shows that these magnificent birds are at risk from new environmental toxins. As if the mercury chain in fish wasn’t enough, it appears that the food chain for Peregrines is contaminated by other environmental toxins. For example, Maria Cone of the Los Angeles Times reported that Peregrines in some urban areas of California have the highest levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) found in any animal in the world. PBDEs are used in flame retardants and are reasonably closely associated with neurological, immunological and reproductive disorders in laboratory studies of animals and, thus, may be harmful to humans.

If the Canaries are dying, we better get out of Dodge City, no? Oh, we have nowhere to go? O.K. Mayhaps we better consider cleaning up our act.

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Filed under Birds, News, Notes and comments, Science, Technology

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