South Padre Island is the most important staging area in the world for Peregrine falcons during their annual fall migration. Richard Moore takes us to the beach with falcon researchers who are monitoring the remarkable raptors.
North of the town of South Padre Island and its towering condominiums, the open beach stretches for some 25 miles. Across this undeveloped tract of dunes and sand flats, one of the most remarkable migrations in the world is unfolding.
It is the peak of Peregrine falcon migration, and biologists are busy capturing, taking blood samples and banding these magnificent birds of prey as they migrate some 3,000 miles from their breeding ground in the arctic to their winter home in South America.
In a joint effort between the Peregrine Fund and Earth Span, biologists have been monitoring the peregrine passage for 41 years, one of the longest continuous field research projects in the world.
Greg Doney, with Earth Span, is the project coordinator.
“If we capture 130 birds this season, we will have caught 10,000 peregrines at Padre Island since 1977.”
The peregrine falcon almost vanished due to the harmful pesticide DDT, but with the banning of DDT in 1972 peregrines have rebounded dramatically, and are no longer an endangered species.
Biologists continue to monitor peregrine falcons, because they are an ideal sentinel species as their migration traverses the span of the western hemisphere, and they are poised to warn us of the threat of other contaminants not only to themselves but mankind as well.
South Padre Island, with its vast stretch of undeveloped beach and tidal flats, is perhaps the most important site in the western hemisphere for peregrines to hunt their avian prey during migration.
Cristin Howard, director of the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, has the honor this day of releasing a captured peregrine.
“South Padre Island is the most special place, and that bird is the most special bird…that was unbelievable.”