Monday, February 11, 2019

Tom Cade, 1928-2019

Dr. Tom J. Cade passed away last week. He was a falconer, ornithologist, and family man, best known as the founder of The Peregrine Fund.

The Peregrine Fund got its start, and its name, in 1970, when Tom Cade was at Cornell University. A couple of kids sent him a check with a note requesting that the money be used "to save the peregrine". He went to the bank, opened a new account for that purpose, and when the bank teller asked what name should be put on the account, he blanked for a moment. "Let's just call it the peregrine fund," he replied, and the name stuck.

But The Peregrine Fund was emphatically not just a financial arrangement, disbursing money to conservationists doing work on the ground. Tom Cade, Jim Weaver, and other P-Fund pioneers were decidedly hands-on—and make no mistake, they were pioneers. Peregrines had been bred in captivity—occasionally, rarely. Cade, Weaver, et al. set out to breed peregrines on an industrial scale, then release them into the wild through a modified form of the ancient falconry technique of hacking. Most conservationists assumed it couldn't be done. Quite a few, in fact, thought it shouldn't be done—there were people and even organisations arguing for "extinction with dignity" as preferential to "intrusive" or "manipulative" intervention in nature. (I equate this point of view with American isolationism in the late 1930s and early 1940s; thank the gods that neither prevailed in the end.)

P-Fund married faith to hard work and good science, and the birds did come, a trickle at first and eventually a torrent, while a small army of students, pensioners, falconers, and birdwatchers mobilised to oversee their transition into the wild as hacksite attendants. I'm proud to have been a part of that army.

Although I've trained some small falcons—several American kestrels and a merlin—I've never yet flown a peregrine. But I have participated in hunts with peregrines at pheasant, duck, snipe, and prairie grouse. I've hacked captive-bred eyasses on the Montana prairie and in the mountains of Georgia, seen hacked birds return to their "natal" territories, and banded eyasses from wild nests on skyscrapers. I've watched peregrines migrating down Appalachian ridgelines and along Gulf Coast beaches, and observed resident birds soaring over Sonoran desert and slickrock canyons out west. I've seen peregrines scatter city pigeons and herd flocks of shorebirds, seen them loafing beneath the Francis Scott Key Bridge (the "Car-Tangled Spanner") in Baltimore and casually scaling cliffs in the mountains where The Last of the Mohicans was filmed. I've arisen what I thought was early, only to find a blonde tundrius peregrine fresh from the Arctic plucking an even earlier-rising sandpiper atop a piece of driftwood, and stayed out past dark to watch young "cadei" peregrines catch bats in the floodlights of a state capitol building. And every one of these experiences I owe, directly or indirectly (mostly directly), to Tom Cade.

Thanks for everything, Dr. Tom.

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