An Iconic Bird Species Returns to Wisconsin

by Ellie Pleasnick, age 12
Sennett Middle School Free Press

[Para leer la versión en español de éste artículo, puedes visitar éste enlace]

Scientists estimate there are between 50 and 430 billion birds on earth, but there is one specific bird that is quite important to Wisconsin, the peregrine (pair-a-grin) falcon. This bird is about the size of a crow, has black feathers on its head, sideburns, a blue beak, and yellow feet. It can fly up to 200 miles per hour.

The peregrine falcon is amazing, but sadly it is endangered in the state of Wisconsin. There are not many remaining areas in the state where the females can lay their eggs. The falcons seen in Wisconsin are mainly passing through as they migrate between locations where they breed in the summer, such as Canada, and some southern wintering areas.

What may have happened to cause the decrease of this species? During the 1950's in Wisconsin, farmers used a pesticide called DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) in an attempt to get rid of harmful insects on plants. This was harmful to peregrine falcons because it caused females to lay eggs with very thin shells. The eggs did not survive because they were crushed during incubation. The toxic chemical even managed to change some of the birds' behavior, making them stop feeding and caring for their young birds. Some of the eggs the female falcons laid did not hatch because of the DDT. By the early 1970’s, there were absolutely no nesting pairs of peregrines left in the Eastern United States. In 1971, the federal government finally realized how toxic DDT was and banned its use. [read more]

News from the Nest: Three New Peregrine Falcons
Hatch in Downtown Madison

by Mariama Bah, age 14

[Para leer la versión en español de éste artículo, puedes visitar éste enlace]

Since 2015, peregrine falcons Trudy and Melvin have been nesting at the Blount Generating Center owned by Madison Gas and Electric (MGE). Three chicks hatched in May and were named and banded on June 3rd. MGE decided to name them after the neighborhoods that surrounded them when they were born. The male falcon was named Willy, after Williamson Street. Willy’s sisters, Jennifer and Brearly, were named after Jennifer Street and Brearly Street.

In the 1950s, peregrine falcons were a fairly common species in North America. But by the 1960s, their population was declining quickly. Scientists discovered this decline was due to the widespread use of DDT, an effective yet harmful insecticide used in gardens and on farms. The DDT directly affected the food-chain and falcon physiology. Specifically, it caused the birds to lay fragile eggs and ignore their young.

In 1971, Wisconsin was the first state to ban DDT, but by that time, peregrine falcons were considered extinct in the state. Recovery has been slow, with biologists breeding them in captivity, but they are hopeful. [read more]

Una especie de ave icónica regresa a Wisconsin

por Ellie Pleasnick, 12 años

Los científicos estiman que hay entre 50 y 430 mil millones de aves en la tierra, pero hay un ave específica que es bastante importante para Wisconsin, el halcón peregrino. Esta ave es aproximadamente del tamaño de un cuervo, tiene plumas negras en la cabeza, patillas, pico azul y patas amarillas. Puede volar hasta 200 millas por hora.

El halcón peregrino es asombroso, pero lamentablemente está en peligro de extinción en el estado de Wisconsin. No quedan muchas áreas en el estado donde las hembras puedan poner sus huevos. Los halcones que se ven en Wisconsin están atravesando principalmente mientras migran entre lugares donde se reproducen en el verano, como Canadá, y algunas áreas de invernada del sur.

¿Qué pudo haber sucedido para causar la disminución de esta especie? Durante la década de 1950 en Wisconsin, los agricultores utilizaron un pesticida llamado DDT (dicloro-difenil-tricloroetano) en un intento de deshacerse de los insectos dañinos en las plantas. Esto era perjudicial para los halcones peregrinos porque provocaba que las hembras pusieran huevos con cáscaras muy delgadas. Los huevos no sobrevivieron porque fueron triturados durante la incubación. El químico tóxico incluso logró cambiar algunos de los comportamientos de las aves, haciendo que dejaran de alimentar y cuidar a sus aves jóvenes. Algunos de los huevos que pusieron las hembras de halcón no eclosionaron debido al DDT. A principios de la década de 1970, no quedaba absolutamente ninguna pareja de peregrinos anidando en el este de los Estados Unidos. En 1971, el gobierno federal finalmente se dio cuenta de lo tóxico que era el DDT y prohibió su uso. [read more]

How Wisconsin Led the Fight to Ban DDT

by Alan Cruz, age 17

The discovery of Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) led to its wide use as a pesticide in the 1940s and 50s. This successful scientific advancement, however, came with unintended consequences.

DDT was created in the 1940s as a modern synthetic pesticide. At first it proved to be effective in both military and civilian populations to treat malaria, typhus, and other insect-borne human illnesses. It was also successful in controlling insects in agriculture and animal production, as well as in institutions, houses, and gardens. In Wisconsin, the pesticide was sprayed on trees in the city of Milwaukee to combat Dutch elm disease. Due to its affordability and effectiveness, there was widespread use of DDT in the United States. Over 2 million pounds of the pesticide were produced every month by the mid-1940s.

But the long-term effects of DDT were not yet fully understood and for years negative environmental impacts were overlooked. The chemical appeared to be such a promising product that the chemist who discovered DDT was awarded a Nobel Prize in medicine. It wasn’t until years later that several environmentalists and scientists began to call out the toxicological effects of broad DDT usage in the country. People who were concerned by the chemical’s effects discovered that because it remained in the environment for a long time, DDT was able to accumulate in the fat cells of animals and humans. Surprisingly, Wisconsin became a focal point of the DDT issue as more individuals advocated for its ban. [read more]