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The Endangered Falcon: Back from the Brink

Recently, plans were announced to remove the peregrine falcon from the endangered species list. This week, Education World introduces you to sites featuring this amazing raptor and provides you with activities that will help you and your students explore the falcon's return from near extinction.

Endangered Species GIF In a news release last August, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt proposed removing the peregrine falcon from the endangered species list. In his statement, Babbit called the bird "one of the most dramatic success stories of the Endangered Species Act."

The peregrine falcon, once found in great numbers on every continent in the world, nearly became extinct when the use of the pesticide DDT became widespread following World War II. DDT not only killed the falcons directly, it also affected their nesting behavior and caused female peregrines to lay eggs with very thin shells that broke during incubation. Restrictions placed on the use of DDT in 1972 and extensive reintroduction projects have finally resulted in the recovery of the American peregrine falcon and saved it from extinction.

The announcement of the raptor's removal from the endangered species list provides you with the opportunity to introduce your students to the subject of threatened and endangered animals and to the issues that surround them. And this week, Education World provides you with the tools to do it. Help your students explore biodiversity, migration, and a variety of other topics as you surf the sites and complete the activities below.


Math -- create a graph. Use Internet and library resources to find references to the falcon population over the years. Create a line graph to show changes in the U.S. peregrine falcon population over time.

Science -- explore animal characteristics. The peregrine falcon is known as the world's fastest bird. Young students can explore some of the Additional Resources
below to learn more about falcons and their habitats and habits. An added challenge: Invite students to explore library and on-line resources for other animals that represent superlatives in size, speed, numbers, and so on. Encourage students to write and illustrate a book containing the results of their research.

Math -- create a chart. Experts estimate that a peregrine falcon can dive at speeds nearing 200 mph. Invite students to create a chart comparing the falcon's speed to that of other animals (including humans). The speeds of some common animals are listed below. (Source: The World Almanac)

Cat (domestic): 30 mphCheetah: 70 mph
Elephant: 25 mphElk: 45 mph
Giraffe: 32 mphGreyhound: 39 mph
Grizzly bear: 30 mphHuman: 28 mph
Hyena: 40 mphLion: 50 mph
Quarter horse: 48 mphReindeer: 32 mph
Squirrel: 12 mphTurkey (wild): 15 mph
White-tailed deer: 32 mphZebra: 40 mph

Word games -- find the words. Encourage students to visit the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Fun and Activities site to complete a word search or a vocabulary matchup about falcons.

Science -- perform an experiment. Invite students to complete the activity Deadly Links and perform the experiment showing how pesticides enter the food chain.

Vocabulary -- name the young. Point out to students that a peregrine falcon nestling is called an eyasa. Ask them to find out what the animal young of other species are called. Some examples follow (animal baby names are in parentheses): beaver (kit); cow (calf or heifer); deer (fawn); dog (pup); duck (duckling); eagle (eaglet); elephant (calf); fish (fry); fox (kit); frog (polliwog or tadpole); goat (kid); goose (gosling); hen (pullet); hippo (calf); horse (foal, yearling, or colt); kangaroo (joey); lion (cub); owl (owlet); pigeon (squab or squeaker); quail (cheeper); rabbit (bunny); seal (pup); shark (cub); sheep (lamb); swan (cygnet); turkey (poult); whale (calf); zebra (foal).

Math -- calculate percentage. Tell students that, according to The Environmental Defense Fund, the number of breeding pairs of peregrine falcons in the United States increased from 39 in 1975 to 993 in 1996; the number of bald eagles increased from 500 pairs in 1963 to 5,000 pairs in 1996; and the number of ospreys increased from fewer than 8,000 breeding pairs in 1981 to 14,246 in 1994. Ask students to calculate the percentage increase for each species.

Geography -- explore a map. Invite students to visit the International Wildlife Coalition's Endangered Species Map Archives page to locate where in the world various threatened or endangered species live. Have students explore the maps from several months, then provide each student with the name of one country, and ask students to list threatened and endangered species native to their assigned country. Encourage students to compare their lists. Young students might visit Endangered and identify threatened or endangered species in specific U.S. states.

Science -- explore migration. Explain to students that the name peregrine, or "wanderer," is a result of the lengthy migration pattern of some peregrines. Arrange students into groups. Let each group brainstorm a list of migratory animals. Then challenge each student in the group to choose one animal to research. The student should learn as much as possible about that animal's migratory patterns. Then provide each group with a world map and invite each member to show on the map the migratory pattern of the animal s/he learned about. Each group will have an opportunity to present the map to the class.

History -- create a timeline. Encourage students to read The Role of the Endangered Species Act and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Recovery of the Peregrine Falcon. Ask them to create a timeline showing the history of legislation involving endangered species from 1900 to today.

Thinking skills -- solve a problem. Provide students with a situation illustrating the difficulty of resolving questions of human versus animal rights. For example, you might say that residents of an elderly housing complex in Florida are upset because their yards and gardens and safety are being threatened by a group of aggressive pelicans. However, the pelicans were there first, and the housing complex has disturbed their habitat. Ask students to stage a debate about what could be done to solve the problem.

Language arts -- use the dictionary. Tell older students that the name peregrine is derived from the Latin adjective peregrines, which means "wanderer." Ask them to explain why they think the peregrine was so named. Then provide students with some other Latin words, from a site such as the Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid (click on any letter of the alphabet), and have them explore the dictionary to find English words that are derived from each of the Latin words.

Take a quiz -- answer questions about migration. In conjunction with the previous activity, encourage students to visit Journey North to learn about migrations of other species, and then have them try the latest Challenge Question on the migration of those species.


  • Peregrine Falcon, from the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Peregrine Falcon Information Centre at McGill University both provide lots of basic information about peregrine falcons, including facts about their physical features, habitats, hunting and mating habits, and history. The Canadian Wildlife Service site includes a map showing the distribution of peregrine falcons in North America.

  • Peregrine Falcon and American Peregrine Falcon also provide basic facts about the bird's status, description, habitat, habits, food sources, and causes of decline. The American Peregrine Falcon site includes information about research and recovery projects as well as a map of the peregrine's range.

  • The Raptor Center and The Chicago Peregrine Release and Restoration Project from the Chicago Academy of Sciences contain information about falcon nesting and breeding and include links to other peregrine nesting and information sites. Many links feature live cam pictures of falcon nests, but most are active only in the spring when peregrines are breeding.

  • The Raptor Resource Project includes news releases, reports on recovery projects and environmental studies, and interesting information for students and teachers. Some excellent photographs are also provided.

Information on peregrine falcons as well as other threatened or endangered animals can be found at the following sites.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 1999 Education World

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