50 years ago, DDT pushed peregrine falcons to the edge of extinction

Excerpt from the February 22, 1969 issue of Science News

peregrine falcon

RAPTORS RECOVERED  Peregrine falcon populations are flying high once again after the federal government took steps to protect them in the 1970s.

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Science News cover from February 22, 1969Fierce and swift, steel blue in color and called the world’s most perfect flying machine, the peregrine falcon is heading toward extinction in North America. The reason: DDT. Perilously high levels of the pesticide and related chemicals have been found in the eggs, fat and tissues of the birds…. [The falcons] are not picking up the DDT directly, but get it by eating other birds which, in their southern migrations, ingest DDT-contaminated insects. — Science NewsFebruary 22, 1969


Two years after the American peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum) was declared endangered, the United States banned DDT in 1972. The pesticide lingered in the environment, however, and by 1975, North America’s population of peregrine falcons hit a low of 324 nesting pairs. State and federal agencies worked with conservation groups to breed the species in captivity, with some 6,000 birds released into the wild since 1974. The species was removed from the U.S. endangered species list in 1999.

Allie Wilkinson is a freelance science writer. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Eckerd College and a master’s degree in journalism from Hofstra University.

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