- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident, migrant, and winter visitant, the Peregrine Falcon was uncommon during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
The Peregrine Falcon is widely distributed across North America, with its primary breeding distribution in extreme northern regions of Canada, in Alaska, and throughout western North America. The Peregrine Falcon has been introduced in many places, including cities, across the United States and Canada. Populations are widely scattered throughout the species’ breeding range.
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 10/20 by Partners in Flight. Formerly listed as a federal and a Minnesota endangered species. The Peregrine Falcon was federally delisted in 1999 and by the state of Minnesota in 2013. In Minnesota, it is still officially listed as a Special Concern Species and designated a Species in Greatest Conservation Need by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
A short- to long-distance migrant that winters along the North American coasts (Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf); individuals can be found almost anywhere from the United States all the way to South America. The species practices leap-frog migration, with the most northerly populations migrating the farthest, from northern North America to Argentina and Chile in southern South America.
Primarily birds, small to large (e.g., waterfowl), occasionally mammals, and rarely amphibians, fish, and insects.
Cliffs but more recently tall buildings, bridges, smoke stacks, and other artificial structures.
The Peregrine, which means “wanderer,” is worldwide in distribution and found on all of the world’s continents except Antarctica. The species gained great notoriety during the 1960s and 1970s, when its population plunged due to the use of persistent chemicals. It is one of the most-studied bird species, with a bibliography that exceeds 2,000 primary scientific titles (White et al. 2002).
In Roberts’s 1932 summary of the Peregrine Falcon, known then as the Duck Hawk, he considered the species’ nesting distribution to be the “Lake Superior region and along the bluffs of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers.” He further quipped that it “is probably about as well represented today as it ever was,” but noted it was “nowhere a common bird.” More specifically, Roberts summarized that a “half-dozen pairs nest along the north shore of Lake Superior, probably about the same number in the bluffs along the Mississippi River south of Red Wing, a fewer number along the upper St. Croix River, and an unknown but probably small number about cliff-bordered lakes and streams between the Canadian boundary and Lake Superior.”
Roberts described only a few confirmed nests, ranging widely from near Lutsen in Cook County and Little Marais in Lake County along the North Shore of Lake Superior to Homer in Winona County. All observed nests had eggs, young, or both.
Green and Janssen (1975) listed the Peregrine Falcon as “formerly a resident” along the bluffs of the Mississippi River, the upper St. Croix River, the North Shore of Lake Superior, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), with the last reported nesting of the species within these areas occurring in 1962, 1945, 1964, and 1964, respectively. The authors noted that between “1965 and 1969 there were no summer reports, but in 1970 and 1971 there were observations of a single bird in two localities in the Twin Cities area.”
Johnson (1982) summarized the nesting of the Peregrine Falcon reported by various authors from the mid-1930s to the 1980s. Besides the nesting records previously reported by Roberts (1932), Johnson included 13 nesting records of the species, ranging from 1939 to 1962. These nesting records included Cook, Goodhue, Lake, Pine, St. Louis, Washington, and Winona Counties. Johnson noted the paucity of observations in the 1960s, but he did mention two summer observations since the 1971 report by Green and Janssen. Both observations were in June 1981, in St. Louis and Nobles Counties.
Janssen (1987) reiterated much of what had been previously described by Green and Janssen (1975) and by Johnson (1982). He reported on the reintroduction programs that were initiated in Cook and Wabasha Counties. The first successful reintroduction occurred in 1984 in Wabasha County. That program was initiated in 1982 at Weaver Dunes in Wabasha County by Drs. Patrick Redig and Harrison “Bud” Tordoff, both from the University of Minnesota (Tordoff and Redig 1997, 1999). The first reintroductions were unsuccessful because of predation by owls and raccoons but, as noted, reintroduction was successful in 1984. Later reintroductions were successful at buildings in Minneapolis and Rochester and on cliffs along the North Shore of Lake Superior. These initial humble efforts to reestablish Peregrine Falcon breeding in Minnesota were ultimately highly successful and have resulted in the extensive nesting we see in the state today.
As of 1998, Hertzel and Janssen reported confirmed nesting in 11 counties, including Dakota, Hennepin, Itasca, Lake, Olmsted, Ramsey, Sherburne, St. Louis, Washington, Winona, and Wright Counties. The Minnesota Biological Survey recorded 5 breeding season locations during its county surveys, including 1 in central St. Louis County, 1 each on the North Shore in Cook and Lake Counties, and 2 in Cook County on the border with Canada (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2017).
MNBBA participants reported 132 records for the Peregrine Falcon, primarily distributed on the North Shore of Lake Superior from St. Louis to Cook County and along the Mississippi River from Winona County north all the way to Itasca County (Figure 1). Breeding records were from 1.7% (79/4,742) of the surveyed blocks and from a mere 0.9% (20/2,337) of the priority blocks (Figure 2; Table 1). The general distribution of the many observations corresponded to the species’ historical breeding distribution along the North Shore of Lake Superior and along the Mississippi River, especially in southeastern Minnesota.
Nesting was confirmed in 49 blocks in 17 counties. In addition to reports along the North Shore and the Mississippi River, other confirmed nesting included aeries in Cohasset, Itasca County; northern Cook County in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness; Cloquet in northern Carlton County; and Mankato, Blue Earth County. Probable nesting was identified in the iron mining region of central St. Louis County, and possible nesting was identified from East Grand Forks, Polk County, and Crow Wing and Morrison Counties in central Minnesota. Scattered observations were also noted from 17 blocks, including blocks not previously mentioned in Aitkin, Brown, Lake of the Woods, and Mille Lacs Counties.
The history of the decline in the Peregrine Falcon’s population has been well documented in Minnesota (Coffin and Pfannmuller 1988) and in North America (Evans 1982; White et al. 2002). For instance, Coffin and Pfannmuller summarized that the use of organochlorine pesticides, especially DDT, after World War II caused the pesticides’ accumulation in the food chain and eventual transfer to the Peregrine Falcon via its predation on birds. DDT was linked with eggshell thinning in the Peregrine Falcon and many other species of birds and resulted in poor or complete failure of nesting. In addition, habitat loss and increased human activity contributed to declines. Johnson (1982) highlighted that the Peregrine Falcon had begun declining in the late 1940s and early 1950s throughout the eastern United States; others noted similar declines throughout North America. White et al. (2002) identified the maximum extent of reduction in the species distribution, which occurred from 1972 to 1975.
As previously mentioned, Minnesota had an active reintroduction program for Peregrine Falcons as part of the recovery plan for the species in North America. This plan has led to an active and on-going monitoring program and detailed reporting of aeries found in Minnesota (Fallon 2015) as well as in many states in the Midwest (Midwest Peregrine Society 2017). In 2015, Fallon (2015) reported over 50 sites in Minnesota that were occupied by a pair of falcons and additional sites that were occupied by a single bird in residence. In addition, new territories are being discovered each year.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.