HARLINGEN, Texas — When the Spaniards first traversed the vast grasslands of what is now South Texas, they beheld a strikingly beautiful falcon perched on yuccas or the uppermost branches of scattered trees.
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The elegant bird was dark gray on the upper half of its body with a black “cummerbund” across its lower chest and cinnamon-colored thighs. They called it the Aplomado in reference to its dark gray or lead coloring, as plomo is the Spanish word for lead.
The rare Aplomado falcon vanished from southernmost Texas some 75 years ago due to habitat destruction, egg collecting, and harmful pesticides, but thanks to a restoration effort, using captive-bred birds, that began in 1993 between the Peregrine Fund, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and private landowners, the endangered falcon is once again thriving along the coastal prairie.
There are now approximately 28 breeding pairs dispersed throughout coastal environs between the Rio Grande and Matagorda Island. The population at Laguna Atascosa and surrounding lands numbers a robust 19 pair.
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Senior biologist Brain Mutch with the Peregrine Fund has worked closely with the staff at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and private landowners to restore the rare falcon.
“We thank Texas, it has been a great state to work in. We have had a lot of support for a lot of years. I have worked on this project for 28 years from the very beginning of my career, and it has been a wonderful place to work. Texas wants the bird back, and they have been extremely supportive,” said Mutch.
While the Aplomado remains an endangered species, the population in southernmost Texas is relatively stable, and the hope is that the bird will someday recover sufficiently statewide to be taken off the endangered species list.