DEEP: Peregrine Falcon Story

{Peregrine Falcon Head} Connecticut's Peregrine Falcon Story

The Fall and Rise of the Peregrine Falcon

{Peregrine falcon} The peregrine falcon was a regular nester in Connecticut through the early 1900s. Prior to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and the strengthening of collection regulations, hundreds of peregrine eggs and many adult specimens were collected in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Some live birds and eggs were collected for use in the sport of falconry. Many more eggs and specimens were added to private collections as part of a popular late nineteenth century hobby. Peregrine nesting activity in Connecticut declined through the 1920s and 1930s, and the last documented nesting occurred on the Travelers Tower in Hartford in the late 1940s.

Peregrine falcon populations declined rapidly between 1950 and 1965 throughout the United States and parts of Europe. In 1973, the American peregrine falcon was listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. By 1975, the entire population of peregrines in the eastern United States was considered to be extirpated (wiped out). This decline is directly attributed to the effects of organochlorine pesticides, particularly DDT, on breeding populations. The speed and global scale of this species’ decline makes it one of the most remarkable events in recent environmental history. The most significant factor in the recovery of the peregrine falcon was the restriction placed on the use of organochlorine pesticides. Use of DDT was banned in the United States in 1972.

Recovery and Reclassification

On August 25, 1999, the Federal Register announced the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) removal of the peregrine falcon from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife.

{Peregrine falcon roosting} How did the eastern peregrine falcon population possibly recover enough to be delisted? While the peregrine was once considered extirpated from the eastern United States, successful reintroduction programs, using captive-bred birds, helped restore small breeding populations along the East Coast. From 1972 to 1992, the Peregrine Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring peregrine populations, conducted a large captive breeding program. Many birds raised in this program were successfully introduced into the wild at potential nesting sites. Because these introduced birds are the offspring of multiple subspecies, their protection as "mixed heritage" birds was the subject of conflicting legal opinions in 1978, 1983, and 1990. However, the last opinion and the final rule states that "the eastern peregrine falcon is being considered on a par with the American peregrine falcon."

The 1991 Peregrine Falcon Recovery Plan divided the eastern peregrine population into five recovery regions: 1) Mid-Atlantic Coast, 2) Northern New York and New England, 3) Southern Appalachians, 4) Great Lakes, and 5) Southern New England/Central Appalachians. One of the objectives of the plan was to reclassify the peregrine from endangered to threatened when a minimum of 20 to 25 nesting pairs was established in each region. A second objective of the plan also was set to reach an overall minimum of 175 to 200 pairs, demonstrating successful nesting in the five recovery regions. The USFWS believes that the intent of the recovery objectives has been satisfied and that recovery of the peregrine in the eastern United States is sufficiently established.

Recovery in Connecticut -- The Early Years

{Peregrine falcon in Hartford} While Connecticut did not participate in any reintroduction programs, we have benefited from our neighbors’ efforts. In 1997, a peregrine pair successfully nested on the Travelers Tower in Hartford. Leg bands revealed that the female of the pair came from a 1994 reintroduction project in Greece, New York, sponsored by Rochester Gas and Electric, in cooperation with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation Endangered Species Unit. Given the name "Amelia," this bird was last reported in the Syracuse, New York, area in early June 1996. Other young fledged from this reintroduction have nested in such faraway sites as Ohio and Nebraska.

The 1997 pair in Hartford produced three chicks, one male and two females. At approximately three-and-a-half weeks of age, each chick was fitted with a black aluminum USFWS band on one leg and a half-black, half-red band with letters and numbers on the other leg. The letters and numbers on the two-colored band, which can be identified through a spotting scope, have helped biologists track the movements of these young peregrines after they left the area.

After the chicks fledged (reached the flying stage) in July 1997, the adult peregrines were so defensive of these early flyers that the Travelers Tower was closed to public tours as the adults were swooping down and startling visitors.

One female chick caused quite a stir when she was seen and heard, about six days after fledging, on the roof of the building across from the Travelers Tower, calling for the adults to feed her. Thinking she was unable to fly, concerned Travelers employees called a Wildlife Division biologist. The bird, which was easily identified by her leg band, turned out to be in good health and flew off on her own by the next day. Unfortunately, at the end of July, the male chick was found dead on the edge of the sidewalk on Central Row, near the Travelers Tower. Biologists speculate that it may have hit a glass window while flying. During their first year, when peregrine chicks must perfect their hunting and flying skills, accidents, such as what happened to the male chick, are not uncommon. These young fliers, when raised in urban areas, must learn to maneuver around obstacles, such as tall buildings, bridges, and cars.

{Peregrine falcon chick} In 1998, the peregrine falcon pair on the Travelers Tower in Hartford was back in action and laid four eggs at the end of April. Unfortunately, when a Wildlife Division biologist went to check the nest, he discovered that the pair had chosen to nest at a new site on the Tower in a gutter and lost their eggs during a period of prolonged rainfall in May. At that time, there was still a chance that the pair would renest, hopefully in a drier spot, but the pair never did.

In 1999, the Wildlife Division, along with others at the Travelers Tower in Hartford, watched the progress of three male peregrine falcon chicks that hatched from the nest box located on the building. In mid-June, the then three-week-old chicks were banded and returned to the nest box. The birds fledged around July 4th. One of the young birds flew to an adjacent rooftop and became trapped in a gated area when it couldn’t figure out how to escape. On July 7, Wildlife Division biologist Julie Victoria and Dave O’Shea of Trammel Crow Company (the facilities management company for the Travelers Tower) netted the trapped bird and transported it back to the ledge where it was born. The young peregrine flew off after being released and then quickly returned to the Travelers Tower. Another sibling from this trio was present on the Tower when this bird was released.

A second pair of peregrine falcons successfully nested in 1999 in Bridgeport. In mid-March, this peregrine pair was frequently seen on the Peoples Bank building, but nesting was not observed and the pair was not seen in the area after March. Wildlife Division biologists were alerted to this successful event at the end of June when one of the chicks was found walking on the ground in a factory parking lot and taken to a veterinarian. The chick, which was healthy and able to fly, was eventually taken to wildlife rehabilitator Marilyn Kappel. A query was sent to local birders asking if anyone knew the location of the peregrine nest. Dennis Varza of Fairfield eventually discovered the nest under Interstate 95 as it spans Bridgeport Harbor. Marilyn released the young bird at the site and it flew to its parents and sibling. Within a few days, both young chicks had flown from the area.

History of Nesting in Connecticut (1997-2010)

In the decade since peregrine falcons began nesting again in the state, additional pairs have successfully produced young in several Connecticut towns. Every year, a number of dedicated volunteers and Wildlife Division staff monitor the peregrine nests located in Connecticut throughout the nesting and fledging seasons. Division biologists also attempt to visit the nests (if they are accessible) to place identifying leg bands on the young before they fledge. This is an important management tool for monitoring this state threatened species.

 Hartford*

 1997 - First report of a successful nesting

 Successful: 1999, 2000, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010

 Failed: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2008, Not Active 1998, 2003, 2006

 Bridgeport

 1999 - First report of a successful nesting

 Successful: 2001, 2002, 2003 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

 Failed: 2004, 2008

 Stamford

 1996 - Peregrines present, but no nesting attempt

 Successful: 2003

 Failed: 2004, 2006, 2007

 Not Active: 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010

 Hamden/

 Woodbridge

 2000 - Report of an unsuccessful nesting

 Successful: 2006, 2007

 Failed: 2000, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010

 Not Active: 2002, 2003, 2004

 Milford

 2002 – Peregrines present, but no nesting attempt

 Successful: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010

 Failed: 2007

 Middletown

 Successful: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

 Enfield

 Successful: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

 Waterford

 Successful: 2008, 2009

 Failed: 2007

 Westport

 Successful: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

 Lyme

 Successful: 2008

 Not Active: 2009, 2010

 New London

 Successful: 2009, 2010

 Waterbury

 Successful: 2009

 Not Active: 2010

 New Haven

 Successful: 2009, 2010

*Amelia hasn't nested on the Travelers Tower since 2005. The new female is from Lawrence, Massachusetts, and the male is from Golden Valley, Minnesota.

Status of Peregrine Falcon in Connecticut
Changed to Threatened in 2010

{Peregrine falcon flying} The peregrine falcon was originally listed as an endangered species when Connecticut's List of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species became official in 1992. When the list was recently updated in 2010, the peregrine's status was changed to threatened to reflect the continuing recovery of the population and increase in nesting pairs in the state. The peregrine falcon also is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Content last updated on April 4, 2011.