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.

Plover rebound, mosquitoes, lake grants and a 216-mile kayak trip: 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:


A piping plover parent with chicks. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Plovers rebound with Conservation efforts (Grand Traverse Insider): Current measures to protect endangered piping plovers, small sparrow-like birds found on Great Lakes shores, are proving effective. The bird was listed as endangered in 1986, when only 12 pairs remained. The plover population has been slowly rising since then, with 58 pairs recorded last year. Attempting to raise these numbers, conservationists are breeding the birds in protected areas of the Platte River Mouth, incubating abandoned chicks and eggs and educating the public to stay away from areas reserved for rehabilitation. Though it will take some time to reach the recovery goal of 150 pairs, conservationists remain optimistic.

Urban blackbirds are more cautious than country birds (Conservation Magazine): Recent studies show that city-dwelling blackbirds show greater restraint than those from rural areas. A team of researchers collected 28 young blackbirds from the urban atmosphere of Munich, Germany as well as 25 blackbirds from a nearby forest. The team found that city birds took an average of half an hour longer than rural birds to perch near an unfamiliar object, which they say is likely a result of genetic personality differences.

Experts: Mosquitoes in Muskegon County showing normal activity for late spring, no West Nile Virus cases confirmed (mlive): Though the recent mosquito invasion around Michigan may seem especially intense, experts say that these numbers are nothing out of the ordinary for the spring season. April’s heavy rainfall combined with warm temperatures provided the ideal habitat for spring mosquitoes, which are expected to experience a population peak for the next 2-3 weeks. Experts say that, though West Nile Virus does not appear to be particularly present in Michigan this spring, it is important to watch for the virus this coming summer.

U-M Water Center Awards $570K in Great Lakes Restoration Grants (Great Lakes Now): The University of Michigan Water Center, a Great Lakes education and research organization, awarded twelve, two-year research grants yesterday. The grants were awarded to projects that followed one or more of the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative’s four focus areas: extracting toxic contaminants, combating invasive species, protecting wildlife and clearing nearshore areas of polluted runoff. Projects range from tracking harmful algae blooms to monitoring fish responses to restoration initiatives.

Student completes 216-mile kayak trip for fundraiser (Detroit Free Press): A student from Western Michigan University completed a 216-mile kayaking journey on Tuesday. Cody Ledsworth began the trip on Wednesday, May 15, paddling against the wind down the Muskegon River. Throughout the trip, he gathered donations for Parkinson’s disease research, inspired by his grandmother who has the disease. The 20-year-old eventually raised more than $2,300 for the nonprofit Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, far surpassing his original $500 goal.

Kirtland’s Warblers, piping plovers, and dunes: this week in environmental news

Kirtland's warbler

The Kirtland’s warbler.
Photo: Cindy Mead.

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:

Michigan’s ever famous, endangered Kirtland’s Warbler (mlive): The Kirtland’s Warbler, one of Michigan’s rarest migratory songbirds, is facing removal from the Endangered Species List, according to the DNR. The species has historically been threatened by the over-growth of Jack Pine trees and competition with the Brown-headed Cowbird. Combating this, the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Plan has helped the population grow from 167 to 2,063 singing males in the past 26 years. Intensive management practices will continue to sustain this species.

Volunteers needed to monitor endangered piping plovers (Great Lakes Echo): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently seeking volunteers to monitor piping plovers during the bird’s nesting season, May 1st to July 15th. The piping plover, which nests on wide-open beaches, is considered critically endangered, and the population has seen a significant drop in recent decades. Volunteers can help restore the species by reporting sightings of the bird, assisting with habitat recovery, and raising public awareness along Great Lakes shores.

New Metropolitan Planning Council report offers solutions to stem Lake Michigan water loss (Chicago Tribune): The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) may change its regulations for local permittee use of Lake Michigan water, hoping to save both water and money. Currently, northeastern Illinois loses 26 billion gallons of this water each year. The Metropolitan Planning Council released a report that supports the IDNR’s water regulation proposal and also suggests that the department improve its water accounting systems, metering plans, and permittee support. Additionally, they suggest that the department require modernized plumbing plans and restrict outdoor water use among permittees.

Protecting Sleeping Bear Dunes (Grand Traverse Insider): A funding cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has resulted in controversy regarding the protection of Michigan’s parks, particularly the Sleeping Bear Dunes. The fund puts a portion of the proceeds from offshore drilling toward the Park Service’s ability to buy privately owned land near parks, affecting animal migration, land and water quality, and environment sustainability. Park allies are working to achieve full congressional funding of the LWCF, which is currently supported by Michigan Senators Stabenow and Levin.

Plan could lead to lifting of land acquisition cap (Holland Sentinel): The Michigan DNR is planning to submit a proposal to lift the cap on state-owned land, which currently limits state-holdings to approximately 4.6 billion acres. If approved by Governor Rick Snyder, the proposal would end the cap statewide, allowing for more state-owned forests, recreation areas, and wildlife reserves. The DNR argues that this lifting is necessary, as the Detroit area in particular sees a general need for public land.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service celebrates Endangered Species Act’s 40th anniversary

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

In 1972, President Nixon declared that “conservation efforts in the United States aimed toward preventing the extinction of species were inadequate,” and asked Congress to develop comprehensive legislation regarding endangered species. The Endangered Species Act was passed on December 28, 1973, and is considered the most important piece of endangered species legislation. Since its inception, the act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species it protects.

2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is honoring  the anniversary with a year-long celebration of the law and the country’s conservation efforts. Check out the timeline below for a list of significant events and achievements in the Endangered Species Act’s history. For more information on the legislation and the 40th anniversary celebrations, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

ESA timeline