the diurnal birds of prey—some 290 species of condors, vultures, eagles, hawks, and falcons, but especially with falcons, principally the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus). Some of these raptors, such as the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) and the Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctatus), are among the most endangered species in the world, and all seem to have attracted increasing human interest in recent years.

Given the long history of human involvement with birds of prey in the sport of falconry and as tribal and national totems, it is curious that the propagation of these species in captivity is a quite recent activity. The first peregrine falcon known to be raised from captive parents was produced as recently as 1942, and even as late as 1965 only about 23 species of diurnal raptors had been successfully bred in captivity, mostly on a casual or accidental basis (Cade, 1986a). In the early 1970s it was still widely believed that systematic large-scale propagation of raptors was an impossible feat, owing, I suppose, to the wild and fierce nature of such birds and to their apparent need for vast expanses of air space in which to perform their spectacular aerial courtship displays prior to mating and nesting.

The situation has changed markedly in the last 15 years. When it became evident in the late 1960s that populations of many species of raptors in north temperate regions had suffered major declines as a result of exposure to DDT and related pesticides or to other forms of environmental degradation, a nascent interest developed, especially among falconers, in perfecting techniques of captive breeding for some of these species. Of particular interest was the peregrine falcon, whose numbers had been severely reduced by pesticides over most of Europe and North America. This species has always been highly esteemed by naturalists and falconers alike for its near perfection as a flying machine.

In a summary of the worldwide effort to propagate raptors for the Fourth World Conference on Breeding Endangered Species in Captivity held in 1984, I came up with a list of 83 species that had reproduced in captivity—most of them since 1965 (Cade, 1986a). At least three species now need to be added to the list—the pondicherry vulture (Sarcogyps calvus), the white-tailed hawk (Buteo albicaudatus), and the crested eagle (Morphnus guianensis) of the Neotropics (ISIS, Captive Population Information, 31 December 1985). At present, more than 25% of all falconiform species have been bred in captivity. Some species have produced thousands of progeny; certainly the number of peregrine falcons raised in captivity exceeds 5,000 worldwide, and the American kestrel (Falco sparverius) is not far behind. At least 12 species have produced more than 100 progeny in captivity since 1975. It is safe to conclude that most if not all diurnal birds of prey can be bred in captivity given sufficient knowledge of their needs and sufficient resources to carry out the work.

What is the explanation for these rather sudden breakthroughs in the breeding of birds of prey in captivity? First, raptor breeders are true zealots with a single-mindedness of purpose to succeed against all odds and at any personal sacrifice. Although they come from all walks of life, most have in common the fact that they are falconers steeped in 3,000 years of accumulated knowledge about handling and training hawks and falcons and possess a special rapport with their birds that gives them an intuitive feel for what is needed in any particular situation.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement