From the Service memo:
"...American peregrine falcon populations continue to grow in the U.S.,especially in the West. The northern, or Arctic, peregrine falcon was delisted in 1995, and recent migration counts (2003-2006) indicate that the population remains healthy," according to Service Director H. Dale Hall.
"By allowing falconers to capture birds only in specific areas and at specific times, the Service can guarantee their removal would have no significant impact on the population. The majority of peregrine falcons that migrate from North America to Central and South America (mostly Arctic and northern American peregrines) migrate along the Atlantic coast and over the Gulf of Mexico. However, many other peregrines in the eastern U.S. and southeastern Canada do not migrate far south. The FEA concludes that any take allowed is unlikely to negatively affect populations of peregrine falcons in North America or Greenland."
These not-unrelated developments stem from the hard work of many people over several decades and reflect two important facts recognized by the Service and documented in the scientific literature: the practice of falconry has no significant impact on raptor populations, and those populations are healthy, being either stable or increasing across their ranges.
Of course, most of the species used in American falconry were never threatened (common birds such as red-tailed hawks and prairie falcons), but the peregrine was a special case, both highly regarded as a trained hawk and, by the middle of the 20th century, vanishing in the wild. Its story of alarming decline and carefully charted recovery has iconic status. As an example of how widespread use of an environmentally persistent pesticide can affect animals far removed from its target, the peregrine's story will be textbook fodder for years to come.
That US falconers will have some opportunity to resume this age-old (but usually brief) relationship with the passage peregrine is a source of great excitement for many. There are numerous falconers still practicing who remember trapping young peregrines on beaches along the Eastern seaboard and the Gulf Coast. These birds were almost all "borrowed" for a single season, flown at snipe, dove and ducks through their first winter of life and then released or simply lost by springtime.
Today's commonplace use of radio telemetry will allow more of these birds to be kept for subsequent seasons. How this will affect the annual harvest of passage peregrines by the very small number of qualified falconers remains to be seen.
While in my personal falconry I admire the way hawks mature over several seasons, and I tend to retain the same bird from year to year, I would like to know some falconers will continue to pursue the traditional (that is, rather fleeting and tenuous) relationship between human and the bird called "wandering falcon."
My friend Eric will certainly try his hand at flying a passage peregrine someday. He usually flies his passage merlins for a single season, enjoying both their fall trapping and spring release, as well as their wintertime cooperation in the field.
In the weeks immediately following their release, Eric's merlins typically stay in the vicinity of his home fields, continuing to hunt with him while at complete liberty; he calls this special period "the post season." I consider it a remarkable example of cross species trust and understanding, and a testament to the mutual benefit of the falconer/raptor relationship. But at some point, usually when the winds have shifted to the south and avifauna of all kinds have begun to move north to their breeding grounds, Eric's passage falcons depart for good.
I think my friend would be satisfied, and honored, to share the same sort of life with a long series of first-time migrant peregrines. I'm looking forward to hearing his stories.
(Eric with passage female merlin, 2008)