Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version



"Book Reviews," from Nebraska Bird Review (March 1991) 59(1).


Copyright 1991, Nebraska Ornithologists' Union. Used by permission.


Dan O'Brien. The Rites of Autumn: A Falconer's Journey Across the American West. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1988. 192 pp. $9.95.

The reintroduction of animals into the wild is difficult and, at times, seemingly futile work. A tiny fraction of those actually released live long enough to reach full adulthood and an even smaller number actually survive to breed. Dan O'Brien has worked since 1965 at the frustrating task of reintroducing young peregrine falcons to the mountains of the western United States. His new book, The Rites of Autumn, is an autobiographical account of his dedication to this Herculean job. Travelling from Montana to the Gulf of Mexico, O'Brien's narrative traces the fall migration route of the Peregrine Falcon in a last attempt to teach a young falcon how to be wild.

O'Brien begins his story in the mountains of Montana as his three-person team attempts to release four fledgling falcons into the wild as part of a propagation and "hacking" or reintroduction program. Unfortunately, three of those four birds are lost to a wandering Golden Eagle. The last, whom O'Brien names Dolly, is recaptured and adopted by O'Brien, who decides to play the roles of both falconer and mother. He will try to teach Dolly how to hunt her natural prey along what would be her natural migratory route.