May 11, 2015

Letter: Peregrine falcon predation is actually beneficial to Hyde Park

A recent article entitled “The missing birds of Hyde Park” by Karen Bradley inaccurately portrays peregrine falcons as strong negative influences on the birds of Hyde Park. As a biology and environmental studies major with a strong interest in conservation biology, I applaud any efforts to protect native fauna. However, there are serious issues with Bradley’s characterization of peregrine falcons.

Bradley stated that mourning doves, pigeons, starlings, monk parakeets, blue jays, nighthawks, grackles, and American kestrels “have nearly or entirely disappeared from Hyde Park” due to peregrine falcons. Of this list, pigeons, starlings, and monk parakeets are all non-native species introduced by humans. Non-native species can wreak havoc on native species, outcompeting them for resources such as food and nesting space. Peregrine predation on these species is actually a very good thing.

Peregrine falcons are native to the Midwest, but almost went extinct in the 1970s due to DDT exposure. Biologists reintroduced this species to the region and, as top predators, peregrine falcons help keep populations of smaller prey species in check. We, the Hyde Park community, are lucky to play host to this native bird. While Bradley stated that peregrines destroyed “balance” in our community, protecting native species actually keeps our ecosystem in balance and maintains biodiversity. Furthermore, the presence of a few peregrine falcons would not cause the complete decimation of bird populations as the author suggests.

What is to blame for the supposed “missing birds of Hyde Park,” then? Of all direct human-caused mortality for U.S. birds, feral and free-ranging pet cats are the leading cause of mortality, and bird-building collisions are the second largest cause of mortality. If we were looking to protect birds, our best bet would be to first encourage the University to stop constructing buildings composed mainly of glass surfaces. Birds, especially migratory species, cannot distinguish glass from free flying space and are killed when they strike buildings such as GCIS and the William Eckhardt Research Center. Second, residents must stop letting their pet cats outside and supporting the continued presence of feral cat colonies. Feral and outdoor pet cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds in the U.S. annually.

—Jennifer Uehling, Class of 2015