Species spotlight: the Peregrine Falcon

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

In a story by the Great Lakes Echo, a Peregrine Falcon was found outside the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s electrical generation plant creating a nest.

A young Peregrine Falcon peers over a ledge. Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A young Peregrine Falcon peers over a ledge. Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Although the thought of a bird nesting and laying eggs doesn’t come as a surprise to many Michiganders this time of year, the Peregrine Falcon is a rare bird to the state, making the news more fascinating than usual and piquing the interest of environmentalists.

The Peregrine Falcon, about the size of a crow, boasts a wingspan of 44 inches at the maximum. The Peregrine is not usually found in wooded areas because of its need to hunt from the air in open spaces. The falcon mainly feeds on small birds — sometimes small ducks, giving it a misleading nickname of “duck hawk.” When the Peregrine hunts, it swoops down from high above to snatch its prey which is called stooping. During their stoops, the falcon can reach up to 180 miles per hour.

Peregrines mate for life and establish nesting areas called “eyries” which the falcons revisit annually.  The usual nesting sites for the falcons were in the cliffs of the Upper Peninsula prior to the decline. The recovery team released birds in the Upper Peninsula as well as urban areas including Detroit and Grand Rapids. The falcons would have the opportunity to feed on smaller birds in these areas and not be threatened by the Great Horned Owl.

The Great Horned Owl, a predator to the Peregrine Falcon. Photo courtesy of larkwire.com

The Great Horned Owl, a predator to the Peregrine Falcon. Photo courtesy of larkwire.com

There Peregrine Falcon was considered a national endangered species until 1999, but is still classified as an endangered species in Michigan today. A major decline in falcons started in the 1950s, when harmful pesticides and chemicals were used, killing many birds by affecting eggshells during the incubation period. The chemicals made the falcons lay eggs with extremely fragile shells, which broke and cracked easily causing several fewer chicks to hatch.

A Peregrine Falcon with its prey in its talons. Photo courtesy of lpfw.org

A Peregrine Falcon with its prey in its talons. Photo courtesy of lpfw.org

The Eastern Peregrine Recovery Team was formed in 1975, in order to help restore the lost bird in the Eastern U.S., five years after the harsh chemicals used were banned due to negative effects on the environment. At the time the team was formed, the falcons had shrunk to 10 percent of their original size. The recovery was found extremely successful as 400 falcons were released in the upper Midwest. Prior to the decline, there had been 109 pairs recorded nesting Peregrine Falcons in the state of Michigan.

For more information on the Peregrine Falcon visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.

Dune bill, bat disease grant and the climate change plan: this week in environmental news

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

U.S. Senate OKs bill to protect Sleeping Bear Dunes (Detroit Free Press): According to U.S. Senator Carl Levin, Michigan’s northern Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will see greater protection in upcoming years. On June 21, the Senate approved a measure designating 32,000 acres of Lake Michigan shoreline as wilderness. This designation follows 13 years of work updating the lakeshore’s overall management plan. The senator says the land will provide critical access to the shore’s recreational and cultural opportunities.

Shedd Aquarium showcases Great Lakes, increases awareness for conservation research (mlive): Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium has opened a new exhibit, “At Home on the Great Lakes.” The display showcases over 60 Great Lakes species and includes a sturgeon touch pool, where visitors can have an up close connection with the prehistoric fish. Interactive elements are also scattered throughout the exhibit, such as a screen with live news updates on Great Lakes protection progress. The goal of the display is to rally conservation groups and to inspire the public to protect the Great Lakes.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Awards Grants to 28 States for Work on Deadly Bat Disease (WhiteNoseSyndrome.org): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced grant awards Thursday totaling $950,694 for white-nose syndrome projects. 28 states received grants to monitor bat populations, as the disease has spread rapidly among bat species in past years. Michigan received one of the highest grant amounts, gaining a total of $47,500. The funds are to be used to slow the westward spread of white-nose syndrome, which has already killed approximately 5.7 million bats.

President Obama targets coal power plants, pushes renewable energy in new climate change plan (mlive): In a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday, President Barack Obama proposed steps to boost renewable energy production and to limit heat-trapping from coal power plants. The president hopes to generate enough electricity from renewable projects to power the equivalent of 6 million homes by the year 2020, doubling the electric capacity federal plants are currently producing. Additionally, the speech set a goal for federal housing projects to install 100 megawatts of energy-producing capacity by the end of the decade.

Human Activities Threaten Sumatran Tiger Population (Science Daily): Researchers have recently found that tigers in central Sumatra live at densities much lower than previously believed, which is likely the result of human disturbance. Though habitat loss and deforestation have long been known to threaten tigers, the data reveals that areas of human farming, hunting and gathering of forest products have very small tiger populations, regardless of their abundant populations of prey. The study reveals that more extensive monitoring of tigers and their habitats will be critical to the survival of the species.

Energy debates play out on the Great Lakes nearshore (Great Lakes Echo): In the midst of nearshore energy production controversy across the Great Lakes region, the western Lake Erie basin, between Detroit and Cleveland, is facing some of the greatest debate. The heavily populated area has been found to display some of the worst pollution, affecting fish and wildlife habitats, water quality and climate change effects. Some changes have been implemented to combat this, such as wind turbines along the shore, but they face positive and negative responses from environmental officials.

Species Spotlight: The Indiana Bat

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Michigan protects federally listed birds, snakes and plants—and one bat. The Indiana bat, the only endangered bat in the state, has been federally protected since the late 1960s.

An Indiana bat. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Indiana bats are small, with mouse-like ears and dark brown to black fur, and only weigh one-quarter of an ounce. Though these bats are small and light, they appear larger in flight and have a wingspan of 9 to 11 inches.

Indiana bats can be found in the eastern United States, with populations living in Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, New York, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia. They spend their winters hibernating in cool, humid caves or abandoned mines, and roost under loose tree bark on dead or dying trees in the summer.

In 2005, the estimated population was about 457,000 Indiana bats—half as many as there were when the species was listed as endangered in 1967. Reasons for population loss include human disturbance, cave commercializing and improper gating, summer habitat loss or degradation, and pesticide and environmental contaminants. One additional factor threatens all species of bats and has killed millions bats since 2006: a disease called white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome was first observed in a cave in New York in 2006 and has spread to caves in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The disease affects hibernating bats and is named for the white fungus that appears on the bat’s muzzle and other body parts. Bats with this disease exhibit uncharacteristic behavior during hibernating months, including flying outside during the daytime and clustering near entrances of the areas in which they hibernate. White-nose syndrome has killed between 5.7 and 6.7 million bats in the eastern part of North America; in some hibernating areas, as many as 90 to 100 percent of hibernating bats have died.

A bat with white-nose syndrome. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

State and national plans have been established to manage white-nose syndrome, and Michigan published its response plan in December 2010. The response plan focuses on delaying human-assisted introductions of the disease as much as possible, minimizing human dissemination of the fungus associated with the disease once it becomes present in Michigan, and conserving the remaining bat population after the disease has arrived. Thankfully, things are still looking good in the mitten state: the Michigan Department of Natural Resources conducted a statewide survey in 2012 and found no sign of white-nose syndrome.

For more information on white-nose syndrome, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s white-nose syndrome website.

Species Spotlight: The Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Whenever I see an abundance of dragonflies outside, I think one thing: it’s going to be a bad day for biting flies. I never stop to think about the role dragonflies play in the ecosystem—such as catching and eating the smaller flying insects many humans find pesky, like mosquitoes, biting flies and gnats—or how some dragonfly species may be threatened or endangered.

Adult male Hine’s emerald butterfly. Photo by Ken Mierzwa. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

It turns out Michigan is home to an endangered dragonfly: the Hine’s emerald dragonfly.

The Hine’s emerald dragonfly can be recognized by its emerald green eyes, metallic green body and yellow stripe on its size. Its body is about 2.5 inches long and has a wingspan that reaches 3.3 inches.

The Hine’s emerald dragonfly lives in sedge meadows on dolomite bedrock and spring-fed marshes that are high in calcium carbonate. Today, the dragonfly is only found in Michigan, Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin, but was previously also found in Alabama, Indiana and Ohio.

Habitat loss or degradation is the greatest threat to the Hine’s emerald dragonfly. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Hine’s emerald dragonflies rely on wetland or stream areas with good water quality for growth and development, but most of this wetland habitat has been drained and filled for urban and industrial development. The wetlands that still remain are being contaminated by pesticides and other pollutants. In addition, development is decreasing the amount or quality of groundwater flowing into these habitats.

The first step in preventing extinction of the Hine’s emerald dragonfly happened in January 1995, when the species was added to the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created a recovery plan that gives actions needed to help the dragonfly survive, and researchers are currently studying how to best manage the species and its habitat. The Hine’s emerald dragonfly’s habitat is being protected and improved where possible, and public education programs are being developed to help communities learn about the endangered dragonfly.

The USFWS lists three ways people can help save the Hine’s emerald dragonfly from extinction: learn about the dragonfly and other endangered and threatened species, and share that knowledge with others; join a conservation group or volunteer at a local nature center, zoo or wildlife refuge; and protect water quality by properly disposing of paint and other toxic products, recycling used car oil and limiting use of pesticides and other lawn chemicals.

For more information about the Hine’s emerald dragonfly and other Michigan endangered species, visit the USFWS website.