• Peregrine falcon chicks Kingston

    Peregrine falcon chicks in a nest in Kingston, Ont. Assessed as endangered 40 years ago by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the species has made a remarkable recovery thanks to an extensive captive-breeding program and a nationwide ban on the use of DDT. (Photo: Lindy Martin/Can Geo Photo Club)

Nearly 40 years ago, it was one of the first species in Canada officially assessed as endangered by the then newly formed Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

Today, however, the peregrine falcon looks set to be removed from a list of threatened species and classified as not at risk across most of the country, a change that would constitute a remarkable turnaround in the bird’s fortunes.   

“The ongoing recovery of the peregrine represents a rare but important example of how focussed stewardship can lead to success,” said Marcel Gahbauer, co-chair of the birds specialist subcommittee, part of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which completed its semi-annual assessment of threatened species on Dec. 1. “This is definitely a good news story.”

The peregrine falcon, which is known for being able to reach speeds of up to 320 kilometres per hour, was one of the first species COSEWIC assessed in 1978, the year after the organization was created. In a press release, COSEWIC said the peregrine’s slow but steady recovery over four decades was enabled by a ban on the pesticide DDT and by an extensive captive-breeding program. “For their part,” said COSEWIC, “the birds showed resilience and adaptability, including rapid expansion into cities where they exploit urban nest sites and prey.”

COSEWIC will now recommend to the federal government that the bird be delisted as a threatened species across most of Canada. The pealei subspecies of peregrine falcon, which is found on the Pacific coast, remains a species of special concern.

The peregrine falcon was among the 44 species COSEWIC assessed during its recent meeting. The organization highlighted a number of these as being at some level of risk, including four endemic species for which Canada carries full global responsibility: the Vancouver lamprey, which is found in only three Vancouver Island lakes (threatened); the northern saw-whet owl brooski subspecies, which is unique to Haida Gwaii (threatened); Quebec rockcress, a plant which grows only on certain limestone cliffs on the Gaspé Peninsula (endangered); and Verna’s flower moth, which is found only on the Prairies (threatened).