Under a blue sky a white dove glides, its wings fixed and round head arc, the legs stretched out and thin talons split the air as it approaches the branch of the yucca. Then a flash of lead-like color zooms in from above knocking the dove to the ground. A blur hovers then drops to the downed dove and clinches it between its claws rising now in the swirling wind where it joins its mate in the thin air of the Trans-Pecos.
The Aplomado Falcon has returned to west Texas after a long hiatus. 1952 was the last sighting of a mating pair up until the recent revival. Finally listed as an Endangered Species in 1986, few were seen until captured Aplomados from Chihuahua were released in south Texas in the 1990’s. Another substantial release of Aplomados occurred in west Texas on private lands in 2002. Today the Peregrine Fund has documented six mating pairs in the area, most of them in Jeff Davis County.
Aplomado is a Spanish word meaning lead color, but along with the bird’s blue-gray back are splashes of dark orange on its head and belly with yellow rimmed eyes.
Aplomados often hunt in pairs and their long tails make for agile rudders allowing for quick changes in direction. These hunters, who eat both insect and small vertebrae including smaller birds like the dove and the meadowlark need wide open grass land to survive.
Over-grazing and erosion to the land, a by-product of the cattle industry that dominated this part of the world over the past 100 years, changed and reduced the habitat of the aplomado forcing the bird south into the lesser developed region of Chihuahua,Mexico.
But today environmental factors are reversing as Chihuahua becomes more developed, through increased mono-culture farming practices in the Mexican desert and grasslands that deplete water reserves and eliminate habitat. An increased awareness in west Texas led by conservation minded ranchers and other land owners are restoring the great grasslands and providing another chance for wildlife like the Aplomado Falcon.