President's Perch: A Peregrine Pair Represents Progress...and Promise

An adult Peregrine Falcon. Photo: Ryan F. Mandelbaum


This column appears in the fall 2022 issue of The Urban Audubon.

By NYC Audubon Board President Karen Benfield

At the height of the pandemic, the rhythmic call of a Peregrine Falcon shattered the early-morning silence of my Upper West Side neighborhood. Later that day, my husband spied a bird resting on a balcony just a block away.

NYC Audubon member Bruce Yolton, who runs, was watching them too. He took a photo of the female and was able to read her numbered leg band. Bruce learned that “77/BV” hatched at UMass Amherst three years ago. After fledging, 77/BV flew 163 miles southwest, finding happiness in Manhattan with a lithe male bird.

In May 2022, from our building roof, my husband and I spied four snowy eyasses in the inaccessible bell tower of St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church, at 86th and West End Avenue. On June 7, two eyasses made successful short flights to a nearby building. By end of day, all four had successfully fledged.

A fledgling peregrine tests its wings. Photo: Karen Benfield

As the peregrines honed new-found flight skills and explored balconies, ledges, and rooftops, they attracted a growing, daily audience. New birders, non-birders, the bird-curious, and children flocked to the intersection of 86th and West End to see them, awed to behold the raptors so closely.

This scene was once impossible to imagine. Use of the pesticide DDT caused the peregrine hatch rate to plummet in the middle of the last century. By the mid-1960s, there were no Peregrine Falcons east of the Mississippi. Western populations were devastated as well. The world’s fastest bird—capable of speeds over 200 mph—was almost wiped out in the U.S.

DDT was banned in 1972, and researchers at Cornell University successfully bred peregrines in captivity for reintroduction. As a result of this monumentally important recovery program, more than 6,000 Peregrine Falcons have been released in North America since 1974.

According to Barbara Saunders, who monitors peregrines for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the falcons “slowly made their way back to New York City starting in 1983, nesting atop the Throgs Neck and Verrazzano Bridges.” Barbara notes that local “peregrine pairs now number close to 30 and can be found in all five boroughs” where bridges and tall buildings substitute for their natural cliff-ledge homes.

Jonathan Zucker and other admirers gather to watch the young peregrines. Photo: Karen Benfield
Human actions—both negative and positive—impact birds. At NYC Audubon, this is front of mind as we collect collision data, monitor and promote green infrastructure, change laws, protect habitats, and advocate for pesticide and rodenticide regulation. Watching a young Peregrine Falcon reminds one why our work is so vital, and just how impactful our actions can be.

This spring and summer, NYC Audubon’s conservation volunteer corps experienced record participation (read more on page 6). New Yorkers are eager to get outdoors to learn about, and protect, the natural world—from Peregrine Falcons to Atlantic Horseshoe Crabs to White-throated Sparrows. As you read through NYC Audubon’s recent conservation work in this issue, we hope you’ll consider how you can be part of our efforts, and help us engage more of your fellow New Yorkers as well. Together we can make the City a safer place for Peregrine Falcons and the many other birds that depend on the City’s precious habitats.

One joyful way to support NYC Audubon’s collaborative conservation work is to celebrate with us at this year’s Fall Roost. This year we’ll gather atop the Javits Center green roof to celebrate the Center’s leadership in sustainability and its ongoing partnership with NYC Audubon to transform the Center into a haven for wildlife. (Learn more about the Roost and get tickets.) There are many ways to support NYC Audubon’s mission to help birds, however; learn more.

The peregrine pair together, showing the great size difference between the larger female (left) and her mate. Photo: Karen Benfield