Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Blue Meany, Migrating Raptors and the Falcon Effigies of the Mississippi River

For the better part of five decades, the Peregrine falcon was absent from nesting on the lovely cliffs of the Upper Mississippi River. Re-introduction efforts have now returned the peregrine to these historical haunts. During the 50-year absence of territorial falcons, any and all migrating birds of prey could follow this major flyway each spring on their way to their northern nest site locations without the peregrine falcon to teach them where they could fly - and where they couldn’t. Things have changed. We now have close to 20 cliffs on the Upper Mississippi River that have attracted some level of falcon activity.

During the last two springs, National Geographic has been documenting various birds of prey having to run the gauntlet of Mississippi River falcons. Sometimes, one only has to spend a short time near these cliffs to witness the falcons brutally hammering unaware birds of prey that make the sometimes fatal mistake of flying too close to the cliff wall. Over the last few years we have witnessed the river falcons pummeling Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, Red-tail hawks, Great Horned owls, ospreys, and turkey vultures. At this writing, near the first of April, the falcons have set up territory but have yet to lay their eggs. It is a great time to observe nature’s top gun defending the river bluffs. It can be quite a show.

When we first began our falcon cliff releases, we learned of the many falcon effigies constructed by indigenous peoples centuries ago. These falcon effigies are quite large, some with wing spans of hundreds of feet. The native peoples constructed these large effigies by hauling soil to the cliff tops to construct the mounds. Some of these effigies are in the shape of bears and eagles and some clearly the outline shape of the peregrine falcon. It should not surprise anyone that the indigenous peoples were inspired by this relatively small falcon that will bravely take on many larger birds of prey.

I will be gathering images and measurements of the falcon effigies along the Mississippi River for a later publication. However, it now makes sense just why our native peoples were so moved by the Duck Hawk.

(Amy's note: falcon effigies can be found at Effigy Mounds National Monument - the place our release project began. For more information, visit http://www.nps.gov/efmo)