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How a small group of New York biologists brought the peregrine falcon and bald eagle back from the brink of extinction.
In the late 1970s, the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon were heading toward extinction, victims of the combined threats of DDT, habitat loss, and lax regulation. Flight Paths tells the story of how a small group of New York biologists raced against nature’s clock to bring these two beloved birds back from the brink in record-setting numbers.
In a narrative that reads like a suspense tale, Darryl McGrath documents both rescue projects in never-before-published detail. At Cornell University, a team of scientists worked to crack the problem of how to breed peregrine falcons in captivity and then restore them to the wild. Meanwhile, two young, untested biologists tackled the overwhelming assignment of rebuilding the bald eagle population from the state’s last nesting pair, one of whom (the female) was sterile.
McGrath interweaves this dramatic retelling with contemporary accounts of four at-risk species: the short-eared owl, the common loon, the Bicknell’s thrush, and the piping plover. She worked alongside biologists as they studied these elusive subjects in the Northeast’s most remote regions, and the result is a story that combines vivid narrative with accessible science and is as much a tribute to these experts as it is a call to action for threatened birds.
Readers are taken to a snow-covered meadow as an owl hunts her prey, a loon family’s secluded pond, an eagle nest above the Hudson River, and a mountaintop at dusk in search of the Bicknell’s thrush, one of the planet’s rarest birds. Combining a little-known chapter of New York’s natural history with a deeply personal account of a lifelong devotion to birds, Flight Paths is not only a story of our rapidly changing environment and a tribute to some of New York’s most heroic biologists, but also a captivating read for anyone who has ever thrilled to the sight of a rare bird.
“Darryl McGrath is a career journalist, and it shows. The book is exhaustively researched, but written in an engaging style that fully captures the intensity of the efforts to save the Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, and other species.” — Journal of Field Ornithology
“...[McGrath] chose to devote the lion’s share of her energy to gathering and sifting important material … Oh, and what riveting material it is! Between two soft covers, McGrath tucks in all the great New York State bird-conservation struggles and triumphs of recent decades … [and] brings these stories alive.” — Adirondack Explorer
“…McGrath spins a gripping tale of imperiled species.” — Chronogram
“Underscored by the fascinating history that she recounts so well, McGrath’s message is loud and clear. It should be heard and heeded by those in power and by us all.” — Chatham Courier
“In Flight Paths Darryl McGrath weaves together science, politics, personal struggle, and the emotional gravity of permanent loss into poignant tales of survival. She reminds us that our actions and determination can have a huge impact on birds and other wildlife that make their homes in the Adirondack Park. She brings a fresh perspective to modern conservation efforts and reminds us why birds matter in our everyday lives. Anyone who loves the Adirondack Park, or just appreciates wild places, will enjoy reading this book.” — William C. Janeway, Executive Director, Adirondack Council
“Not since David R. Zimmerman’s To Save a Bird in Peril has there been a popular book on rare and endangered birds so well researched and documented as this one. McGrath writes the story of the remarkable restoration of our national bird in New York, a saga that is largely the story of a few unique people who devoted their lives to this endeavor. She writes similar stories about the peregrine falcon, the common loon, the Bicknell’s thrush, and the short-eared owl, emphasizing the special problems and solutions for each species. Anyone interested in the details of what it takes to save rare or endangered species from extinction should read this sympathetic and well-written book.” — Tom J. Cade, Founding Chairman and Director, The Peregrine Fund
“In Flight Paths, Darryl McGrath tells the compelling story of New York’s legacy as a national and international innovator in modern bird conservation. In an engaging style that often reads more like a novel than typical historical reporting, she focuses on the successful efforts to save the peregrine falcon and bald eagle from extinction in the Lower 48 states. Her conversations and field experience with the dedicated scientists and conservationists whose tireless efforts brought these magnificent birds back from the brink bring a rare depth and richness to the narrative. The pioneering work described in this well-told tale give some hope that when courageous and innovative scientists simply refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer, seemingly intractable problems will yield.” — Kenneth P. Able, editor of Gatherings of Angels: Migrating Birds and Their Ecology
Darryl McGrath is a journalist living in Albany, New York. She has written about upstate New York’s environment and rural regions for over twenty years and has won numerous awards for her reporting from the New York Press Association, the New York Associated Press Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists.
Table of Contents
Part I. WHY WE SHOULD CARE ABOUT BIRDS
Hemlock Lake, January 1976
1. Nature’s Winged Warning System
2. All Those Trees Out There: Of Humans, Habitat, and Birds
Part II. THE RESCUERS
3. The Bird That Owned the Sky: Tom Cade and the Peregrine Falcon
4. The Great Peregrine Falcon Restoration Project
5. The Last Pair of Eagles in New York: Hemlock Lake, 1976
6. So Wild and Free: Bringing Bald Eagles Back to New York
Part III. WHERE WILL THEY BE IN ONE HUNDRED YEARS?
7. Toxic Summer: Loons, Lead, and Our Poisoned Lakes
8. Our Winter Visitors: Shorteared Owls and New York’s Endangered Grasslands
9. The Most Beautiful Sound on the Mountain: The World of the Bicknell’s Thrush
Part IV: A BRIEF AND DANGEROUS LIFE
10. Windows, Windmills, and Lights: The Many Ways We Kill Birds
11. A Billion Dead Birds a Year? The Controversy about Cats
Part V: THE WORLD WE’VE MADE
12. Comeback: The Astonishing Return of the Peregrine Falcon
13. Up in the New York Skies: Bald Eagles Everywhere
Everything is Connected
The Rescuers: Where are They Now?
Common and Scientific Names of Bird Species, Cited in Order of Appearance in Text