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Interaction Of Falcons With Humans

Falcons fascinate many people, largely because of their fierce, predatory behavior. As a result, sightings of falcons are considered to be exceptional events for bird watchers and many other people. Some species of falcons, such as kestrels, are also beneficial to humans because they eat large numbers of mice, grasshoppers, and locusts that are potential agricultural pests.

However, as recently as the middle of this century, some species of falcons were themselves regarded as major pests—dangerous predators of game birds. As a result, falcons, especially peregrines, were killed in large numbers by professional gamekeepers and hunters. Fortunately, this practice ended, and falcons are now rarely hunted by humans. However, young falcons are still taken from wild nests, often illegally, for use in falconry.

Falconry is a sport with a three-thousand-year history, in which falcons are free-flown to catch and kill game birds, such as grouse, ptarmigan, pheasants, and ducks. Falcons are rather wild birds, however, and they must be well trained or they may not return to the falconer's hand. Because of their power, speed, and fierce and independent demeanor, the most highly prized species in falconry are the largest, most robust falcons, especially the gyrfalcon and the peregrine.

Some birds trained in falconry are not only used for sport. Falcons are also used in some places to drive birds such as gulls away from airports, to help prevent potentially catastrophic collisions with aircraft.

Some species of falcons have suffered considerable damage from the widespread usage of certain types of insecticides. Most harmful has been the use of persistent bioaccumulating chlorinated-hydrocarbon insecticides, such as DDT and dieldrin. These and other related chemicals (such as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs) have caused the collapse of populations of peregrines and other species of birds. For example, populations of the most widespread subspecies of the peregrine falcon in North America (F. peregrinus anatum) were widely destroyed by these toxic exposures, and the northern sub-species (F. p. tundrius) suffered large declines. However, because of restrictions in the use of these chemicals since the 1970s, they now have less of an effect on falcons and other birds. In fact, some breeding and migratory populations of peregrine falcons in North America have significantly increased since the late 1970s. This recovery has been aided by large captive breeding programs in the United States and Canada aimed at releasing these birds into formerly occupied or underpopulated habitats.

Still, the populations of many species of falcons is greatly reduced, and some species are threatened or endangered. Protecting these species would best be accomplished by ensuring that extensive tracts of appropriate natural habitat always remain available for falcons and other wildlife. However, in more acute cases, expensive management of the habitat and populations of falcons is necessary to protect these fascinating birds.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Evolution to FerrocyanideFalcons - Interaction Of Falcons With Humans, Current Status Of North American Falcons