Aplomado Falcon

A Texas native returns home
Even after years of careful releases and monitoring, the wild population has yet to exceed the recommended threshold of 60 pairs. We found the root problem, then adapted our strategy…


Aplomado Falcon lands in a wild nest in a yucca

Larry Ditto

Share this project:

After an absence of at least forty years, a stable Aplomado Falcon population thrives along the Gulf Coast thanks to our breeding and release program, in partnership with landowners and collaborators. So why is this falcon still on the U.S. Endangered Species List?

Unlike Peregrine Falcons that range across a variety of habitats, Aplomado Falcons depend on wide-open grasslands with mature yucca plants for nesting, ample migrating birds as prey, and a balance of other predators. Such habitat is scarce.

Threats to Aplomado Falcons

House, trees, and stump
Habitat Loss
Globe and thermometer
Climate Change
Invasive Species
Human head with symbols
Human Conflict
hand holding Aplomado Falcon egg

Paul Spurling

our impact

At the beginning, we approached the Aplomado Falcon with the same techniques that led to the successful recovery of the Peregrine Falcon, by raising young at our breeding facility in Idaho and releasing them to their native habitat in the desert Southwest. We designed nesting platforms to protect the young birds as they learn to hunt and defend themselves, but nesting is only part of the solution; in 2013 we stopped captive breeding to focus on nurturing habitat.

Aplomado nestlings in a protective raised nesting box platform

Brian Mutch

our impact

In August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey severely impacted the Texas population, which lost about 30%, and destroyed many of our nest boxes. We replaced 10, repaired 43, and placed 10 at new locations. Fortunately the population shows signs of rebounding. 

Our nest boxes shelter the nestlings from weather, and the bars are spaced to exclude predators like Great Horned Owls while allowing the falcons freedom to come and go. 

biologists hold newly banded Aplomado nestlings near nest platform
our impact
We acquired a Scientific Research Permit from the National Park Service (NPS), so Padre Island National Seashore’s coastal habitat is now part of the recovery. Two nest structures were placed where falcons have recently been observed.

Prairie restoration continues on US Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge and NPS lands. With chemical, mechanical, and prescribed fire methods, we are improving grasslands for Aplomado Falcons and many other bird species.

Overgrown brush is an enemy of healthy grasslands because it crowds out yucca, the falcons’ preferred nesting plants, and harbors predators like Great Horned Owls. Brush removal is difficult and expensive, but the benefits for falcons and other species are significant. We now advise agencies on grassland restoration and are seeking private landowners who can commit to the same actions. Our priority is restoring areas with recently-abandoned Aplomado territories, or occupied territories where brush is beginning to encroach.

To offset a lack of yucca plants, we erected dozens of barred nesting platforms. Pairs using them raise as many young as pairs in yucca nests, and twice as many as pairs nesting on brush or the ground!

Our advanced computer analysis, the “Aplo-model,” confirms that our approach is working: reproduction along the Texas Gulf coast is ample to sustain a growing population in suitable habitat. Despite damage from Hurricane Harvey, the Aplomado Falcon is still on its way to reaching the de-listing goal of 60 pairs.

How will we continue to grow the population? Expanding habitat is key. Although the Aplomado is a medium-sized falcon, it requires a relatively large area to nest and raise young. Roughly a third of the population and its habitat still lacks formal protection, and rapid development in the Lower Rio Grande Valley could pose a threat. Fortunately, we’ve spent decades stitching together a patchwork of private lands, public parks, and wildlife refuges. So far we have enrolled 2.25 million acres within the falcon's historical range, with a fraction currently suitable for Aplomado Falcons.

This species’ recovery plan was first drafted in 1990. We'll continue meeting with partners to share the latest knowledge and refine our plans for the future.


Learn more:

Curious about conservation? Stay in touch!