Avian Aeronauts

As most of our northeastern migrants make the long journey back to their summer breeding ground, a familiar call is heard echoing from the cliff tops of New Hampshire. The Peregrine Falcons are back and have taken up residence in many of our state’s notable precipices! Living right next to Cathedral Ledge, I have the wonderful opportunity to observe a breeding pair way up on the north end of the cliff. I first noticed the falcons sometime in April so if they are incubating, the young should hatch in the next few weeks! While soaking in the afternoon sun, I’ve been able to observe them in a stoop, or dive in which the Peregrine will cork screw down to its impending prey at mind bending speeds. In such a dive they can reach speeds of up to 180 mph! As a comparison, my navy blue Subaru usually tops out at 90 mph before it spews coolant all over the bitumen! I admire Peregrines for their hunting prowess and understand that a healthy biotic community needs predators in order to function as a sustainable system.

Every summer, to the dismay of some rock climbers, there are cliff closures to ensure breeding and incubation for the Peregrines. Being an avid rock climber myself, I can understand some of the woes of the vertical enthusiasts. However, the fact remains that Peregrines are considered a threatened species in New Hampshire and are protected by NH Fish and Game. A threatened species is one in which if conditions around them begin, or continue to decline, they could become endangered. Just last year, Peregrines had been down listed from endangered to threatened status due to in part, protection programs established by NH Audubon and NH Fish and Game. The breeding population in New Hampshire has increased by 50% over the past decade. "The numbers we track for peregrines are trending up, but only slowly," said Chris Martin, a New Hampshire Audubon raptor specialist. In 2008 N.H. Audubon confirmed 18 occupied peregrine falcon breeding territories compared to only 12 a couple of years ago. Despite their down listed status and successful breeding territories, it’s important to note that Peregrines in the state are still recovering. Bird banding and unhatched egg collection efforts are ongoing and give private and public agencies the information to better manage the species.

Recovered unhatched eggs have been studied over a number of years and have been used to analyze the impacts of several contaminants. For example, flame-retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, are commonly found in many consumer products and can escape into the air, water, or soil. In one study, titled Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers in Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) Eggs from the Northeastern U.S., researchers from the College of William and Mary report unusually high levels of these PBDEs in 114 non-viable peregrine falcon eggs recovered from 35 nests in six New England states from 1996 to 2006. In fact, two New Hampshire eggs contained extremely high levels of total PBDEs that "rival the highest PBDE burdens reported in wildlife to date," according to author researcher Da Chen. The research is preliminary but echoes past findings of DDT contaminants and may prove to be a threat to raptor populations.

What can you do to help the protection and recovery effort? NH Audubon utilizes a volunteer monitoring program to record and observe Peregrine nesting every year. Contact NH Audubon for more details. Also, cooperation in cliff closures throughout the state is essential if the birds are to nest and successfully incubate their young. Below is a list of cliff closures for the upcoming summer season.

Cathedral Ledge:

Routes from climbers' right of "Cathedral Roof" to
climbers' left of "Diedre" (including "Repentence" and "Remission") are temporarily closed to climbing. All other areas on the cliff remain OPEN.

Dave Weston- Backcountry Education Assistant

Climbing closure announcement courtesy of Chris Martin
Photos: Mike Pelchat