A peregrine falcon, the world's fastest bird—and quite simply one of the planet's most awe-inspiring raptors—made its second appearance at MBL on the same cliff-like perch on the Lillie Building on the afternoon of March 9. It had spent parts of two previous days there on February 26 and 27.
Local photographer and bird enthusiast Mike Schanbacher of Woods Hole climbed into the old library stacks and took this picture (click photo for full resolution).
Peregrines follow their waterfowl and shorebird foods sources along the east coast in winter. It no doubt had its eye on the small flock of Mallards that are eeking out a living in the small remaining patch of open water in Eel Pond. The ledges on the back of the Lillie Building are the nearest thing Woods Hole has to peregrines' preferred habitats. "The nearest thing to a cliff in Woods Hole," said MBL Marine Resources Manager David Remsen, who originally spotted the bird.
Schanbacher commented that it's appropriate that this majestic bird sits within stone's throw of the life-sized bronze statue of Rachel Carson that was dedicated in Woods Hole's Waterfront Park on June 12, 2013. I agree.
Rachel Carson, a marine biologist who worked at MBL from 1925-1929, authored Silent Spring, a 1962 best-seller that documented the damage that persistent chemical pesticides did to birds and the environment. One of the chief culprits—DDT—was banned by in US in 1972.
We in Woods Hole reap the rewards of what former MBL Director Gary Borisy called Rachel Carson's journalistic "kicking the hornet's nest."
Peregrine falcons, because they sit atop coastal food chains, were among the most vulnerable of all birds to DDT, which accumulated in their fatty tissues and caused their eggshells to become thin and breakable. Eastern US peregrines were extinct when Carson penned Silent Spring. Ospreys suffered a similar same fate, although their numbers did not drop to zero. Both species have recovered. The US Fish and Wildlife Service removed peregrine falcons from the endangered species list in 1999.
While this bird's visit to Lillie is a chance to see a peregrine up close, thanks to Silent Spring and subsequent scientific investigations into pesticides in the environment, it's now possible to find peregrines cruising the Falmouth and Cape Cod coastlines.