Restoring the Aplomado Falcon to Texas

The endangered Aplomado Falcon used to thrive in western and southern Texas — especially along the coast. Nueces County, in partnership with private landowners and public agencies, is helping restore the falcon to its natural habitat.

By Rebecca L. Bennett

Recognizable by its small stature and dramatic coloring, the Aplomado Falcon is an endangered raptor that used to thrive in large open tracts of grassland and savannah habitat across western and southern Texas — especially along the coast.

These vast coastal prairies provide the perfect environment for Aplomados due to the raptors’ unique hunting style. In the absence of trees and shrubs, mated pairs can work together to flush out and pursue their prey — usually small birds and mammals, reptiles and large insects — at high speeds just above the grass line.

Since Aplomados don’t build their own nests, grasslands also provide the ideal conditions for other bird species like hawks and ravens to build nests big enough for Aplomado chicks.

However, by the 1930s, farming, overgrazing and brush encroachment had swallowed many of Texas’ natural grasslands. Pesticides and nonselective poisoning of “nuisance” insects and animals had also contaminated and decimated Aplomados’ main sources of food and nest structures. These factors landed the Aplomado Falcon on both the U.S. Endangered Species List and the Texas Endangered Species List in 1986.

In 1977, biologists launched a captive breeding program based on Aplomados captured in Mexico. The program was soon taken over by The Peregrine Fund (TPF), an international nonprofit focused on recovering populations of birds of prey.

Since then, TPF has partnered with Texas landowners and official agencies to construct and maintain nesting sites and release nearly 1,000 captive-bred falcons in suitable habitats, such as King Ranch, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Matagorda Island, and Nueces County’s 4,000-acre Mustang Island State Park.

Nueces County began working with TPF in 1987. According to Brian Mutch, a Senior Field Biologist who has been with TPF for three decades, biologists have released 65 young captive- reared falcons into the state park since 2012.

“We have developed a unique artificial nest structure which has increased fledgling success,” Mutch says, adding that Nueces County has funded nest structures, signage and other forms of habitat protection and enrichment in the park. “These efforts have produced a recovering population of breeding Aplomados along the Gulf Coast.”

In 2016, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) credited the program with “the establishment of at least 37 Aplomado pairs that have produced over 92 young in the wild” along the Texas coast.

In 2017, biologists located 39 breeding pairs who raised 52 chicks. Unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey claimed at least 10 pairs in 2018, but a 2019 survey showed that 24 pairs survived the Category 4 storm and raised 32 chicks.

“Captive propagation and reintroductions have returned this beautiful falcon to its native Texas habitat,” Mutch says. “Our ultimate goal is to see this species removed from the endangered species list like the Peregrine Falcon.”

That will require support not only from federal, state, local and nonprofit agencies, but also from private landowners who own most of the “lands within the falcon’s former range,” writes TPWD at

Landowners interested in getting involved should contact TWPD or TPF for more information. To learn more about the restoration project, visit