Peregrine Falcons

Peregrinations-that’s a word you don’t hear very often. It means a long and wandering journey. There is one bird that it might be worth a wandering journey to glimpse – the Peregrine Falcon.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine Falcon was completely exterminated in New England by the early 1960s. In the 1980s and 1990s, Maine released 144 captive-bred birds at eight different locations in the state. High cliffs found in Oxford County provide prime habitat for these birds. The first successful nest site for the reintroduced birds was in Oxford County! Since then the Peregrine Falcon has made a slow but steady return. This year, approximately 35 pairs are being monitored across the State. Still, as the biologists who work to protect this bird will tell you, it is an uncommon and can be challenging to study.

Lesley Rowse, an Albany resident who served as the District Biologist for the White Mountains National Forest, volunteers to monitor Peregrines in the Mahoosuc Region. She monitors three sites in Oxford County. The Peregrine pair mate for life and scrape out nests or “eyries” on cliff ledges. Lesley observes the nests from afar to determine if the pair has chicks. She reports both parents care for the chicks who stay in the nest for about six weeks. After the young learn to fly the family will stay near the cliff until fall when they will migrate south for the winter.

In the past, Lesley has also helped band young falcons before they leave the nest. Extreme care must be taken to ensure that they do not stress the adult birds. As important as it is for the scientists to collect data, the last thing they want is for the parents to abandon the eggs or chicks. In fact, studies have shown that falcons in remote areas like ours are easily disturbed by humans. There is some concern that recreational rock climbers can accidentally disturb nesting peregrines unintentionally.

Peregrines specialize in hunting medium to large birds like blue jays, woodpeckers and ducks. These falcons are often described as the fastest animal in the world because they can reach speeds over 200 miles per hour when in a dive, also called a “stoop”.

If your peregrinations take you by high cliff ledges, keep an eye out for this hawk-sized bird. In flight, watch for its long wings which taper to a point. Also, look for its mutton-chop sideburns. (Photo by Juan Lacruz).   

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to info@mahoosuc.org.