From 1949 to the 1970s, tons of DDT were discharged into ocean waters off the Southern California coast. Even now, decades later, California sea lions that have eaten pesticide-laden prey migrate north as far as British Columbia. Some die and wash up on the beaches of Washington State. There they become food for avian scavengers, including Bald Eagles, Common Ravens, Turkey Vultures, and occasionally, even a Peregrine Falcon.
Since 1995, biologist Dan Varland, Executive Director of Coastal Raptors, has been monitoring the health of raptors on the Washington Coast. He and his team of volunteers capture and band Peregrine Falcons, then attempt to recapture the banded birds once a year, in order to look for mercury and DDT and its metabolites in the birds' blood systems.
This juvenile female Peregrine Falcon was captured and banded on the Long Beach Peninsula of Washington on January 19, 2003. Dan calls her “V Over V," (V/V) for the visual identification band she wears on her left leg.
V/V was recaptured on February 25, 2010, at eight years of age. In addition to the usual measuring, weighing, and tissue sampling, her band was partially obscured and had to be cleaned.
V/V was recaptured on January 7, 2012, at age 10. Blood samples were taken for analysis of the contaminant DDT and its metabolites. Feather samples were taken for analysis of mercury.
Coastal Raptors captured and banded a first-year female Peregrine Falcon on December 8, 2012. Based on her visual identification band, she's known to Coastal Raptors as K/6. K/6 was seen feeding on a harbor seal carcass at Ocean Shores on February 3, 2013.
For better and for worse, the migration of animals links the natural world together. Looking year after year is key to understanding the current and future health of these coastal birds.
Learn more about this research at CoastalRaptors.org.
Listen to the BirdNote show about Dan Varland and Coastal Raptors!