Tettegouche events celebrate peregrine population recovery
Visitors to Tettegouche State Park typically take to the trails along the Baptism River or around the cliffs to get a glimpse of wildlife, but Friday, June 1, about 35 people crowded into the visitor center to get a close-up look of a peregrine falcon.
The event was a kickoff to a month of activities about peregrine falcons. It marks the 30th anniversary of the discovery of a peregrine nest on the Palisade Head cliff in Tettegouche — and the remarkable recovery of a bird that was virtually extinct in the continental U.S. by the early 1970s.
Tettegouche interpretive naturalist Kurt Mead organized an art show in the visitor center that showcased paintings, carved-block printing and other styles inspired by the birds and the dramatic cliffs where they make their homes. Even more intriguing was Titan, a juvenile peregrine handled by Jackie Fallon, Minnesota state coordinator for the Midwest Peregrine Society.
Titan was hit by a car and taken in by the Society. The young bird has recovered from his injuries, but a broken left wing has left him permanently disabled.
In the 1960s, peregrine falcons were nearly wiped out in the wild due to widespread use of the insecticide DDT. The chemical caused peregrine falcons, bald eagles and other birds' eggs to have thin, fragile shells. DDT was banned in 1972 and when peregrine falcons were listed as endangered in 1973, there were zero nesting pairs in Minnesota.
In the years after the ban on DDT, captive peregrines were bred and the resulting young were hand-reared on cliffs like the ones in Tettegouche along Lake Superior, according Fallon. Ecologists and others would rappel down cliffs to the young birds' nests to hand feed the birds.
In the summer of 1988, the first nesting pair of peregrines were found just behind where the visitor center is today. The first, post-recovery pair of peregrines were found at Palisade Head, and 11 years later, the birds were removed from the endangered list. Today, there are 25 pairs of nesting peregrines on the North Shore alone.
"There is no other species that has made that type of recovery in that short of a time period," Fallon said. "Basically, we went from listed as endangered to recovery in 26 years."
Fallon said the biggest factor in the recovery of the birds was the banning of DDT, which had wiped out peregrines east of the Mississippi River, but Minnesota state parks played a role, too.
"We wouldn't survive without the habitat and that's what the state parks provide," Fallon said.
The Tettegouche visitor center was filled with abstract and realistic portraits of peregrines.
"Pilgrims Rising," a carved-block print on layered fabric by Jill Levene, seemed to depict the birds recovery. Grand Marais artist Neil Sherman's oil painting "Soaring" wasn't painted with peregrines in mind, but it depicts a bird's view of a North Shore cliff.
Sherman's work decorated the Tettegouche visitor center in April. Mead asked the artist to bring back the cliff painting for the June show.
The month-long celebration of the peregrines' recovery will culminate in a day of events Sunday, June 16, at the Tettegouche visitor center.
Peregrine events June 16 at Tettegouche
• 9 a.m. to noon — "Falcons and Other Birds: A Photography Workshop." Wildlife photographer Ryan Pennesi will guide participants in photographing several species of captive falcons as well as wild songbirds birds of the park. There is no fee, but participants should register ahead of time by calling the park at 218-353-8800.
• 1-3 p.m. — "Thirty Years of Peregrines." Guest speakers and pioneers in the peregrine recovery efforts will talk about peregrines' past, present and future.