Peregrine Falcon Breeding Report for 2016

Posted on September 29, 2016
Vocal peregrine fledgling in Nashua. Photo by Chris Sheridan.

Vocal peregrine fledgling in Nashua. Photo by Chris Sheridan.

By Chris Martin

This spring marked the 36th breeding season in the post-DDT recovery era for New Hampshire’s peregrine falcons. Our state’s peregrine population–once classified as federally endangered, currently listed as state-threatened–has been slowly rebounding. Although the Granite State’s peregrines have not demonstrated the dramatic recovery rate we’ve documented with our state’s bald eagles, the falcon population continues to expand, and is part of the fabric of a strong regional population consisting of both cliff-nesting and urban-nesting pairs.

In 2016, NH Audubon staff and volunteer falcon observers confirmed a total of 21 occupied territories in NH, a couple pairs less than the state record high 23 territories documented in 2014. We confirmed incubation of eggs by 20 (95%) of the state’s 21 pairs, which is a new state record high. Of this year’s 20 incubating pairs, 14 (70%) were successful in fledging at least one young. The 14 successful nests also matches a state record high first set in 2014. A total of 32 young fledged in 2016, an average of 1.60 young fledged per nesting pair, which is just a fraction below the state’s 36-year average of 1.66 young fledged per nesting pair.

NH Peregrine Falcon Productivity, 1980-2016

Another milestone was that, for the first time in the post-DDT era in New Hampshire, 30 or more young have fledged each year in the Granite State in three consecutive breeding seasons.

Two NH nest sites (Brady-Sullivan in Manchester and Holts Ledge in Lyme) fledged 4 young in 2016. For the second straight year, nearly one-third (10 of 32) of our state’s fledglings came from urban nest sites (4 from a building in Manchester, and 2 apiece from a quarry in Concord, a bridge in Portsmouth, and a nest in Nashua).

We documented a new urban territorial pair on the I-293/101 Bridge over the Merrimack River in Bedford. Up north, the Abeniki Mountain nest near the Balsams fledged 3 young, and Diamond Peaks in the Second College Grant successfully fledged young for the second time in three years, another first. Another northern pair, at Devils Slide in Stark, had an unproductive year when the male was found injured in May. Despite challenges, pairs also fledged young successfully at popular rock climbing sites in Franconia, Conway, and Rumney. NH also reclaimed the I-95 Bridge pair from our friends in Maine in 2016 because this season that stateline-hopping pair elected to lay eggs on a nest tray in NH that biologists installed a number of years ago.

In collaboration with colleagues from Stantec and BioDiversity Research Institute, we continued to monitor daily movements of an adult female nesting near Newfound Lake via the lightweight solar-powered satellite transmitter first placed on her in May 2014. Our data show that she spends her winters in a roughly 60mi x 30mi area of eastern Pennsylvania. In early March 2016, she returned to her NH breeding site, only to reverse course and return to her PA wintering area for yet another week, before migrating back to NH a second time. In April 2016, we captured the breeding female at Rattlesnake Mountain and fitted her with a transmitter. She surprised us in July by making an early move to the PA/MD border southwest of Philadelphia only days after her single chick had fledged. We think she left “Dad” on his own to provide flight training for the chick!

Juvenile falcons (2 of 4) at Holts Ledge. Photo by Peg Ackerson.

Juvenile falcons (2 of 4) at Holts Ledge. Photo by Peg Ackerson.

NH Audubon has scaled back significantly on the time-consuming and logistically complex task of accessing remote nest ledges to band falcon chicks. But ongoing efforts to determine the banded status of New Hampshire’s breeding adult peregrines in 2016 yielded the following results. Of 42 known individuals, the banded status was determined for 22 birds (52%) and remained unknown for another 20. Of the 22 individuals where banded status was confirmed, 18 (82%) were unbanded, while only 4 (18%) were confirmed to have bands.

With the exception of an extensive banding program still underway in Massachusetts, the majority of New England’s young peregrine falcons now fledge from their nests without being handled or banded by biologists.  Notable band encounters in 2016 included Nashua’s breeding male, 7-yr old “black/green 5/9”, who is a grandchild of Manchester NH’s falcons. A Manchester offspring from 2001, 15-yr old “black/green *6/*4”, continues to rule the roost at a highly productive nest in Lawrence MA. And one of his offspring, 3-yr old “black/green 11/BD”, is now the territorial male at Bedford NH’s new I-293/101 Bridge site.

As always, a really big “Thank You!” goes out to all those who support ongoing peregrine falcon recovery efforts in New Hampshire, including natural resource managers, private landowners, volunteer observers, corporate partners, and rock climbers. Management activity at breeding sites is supported by a federal State Wildlife Grant to the NH Fish and Game Department Nongame Program. Additional monitoring support was provided by Stantec, an international environmental consulting firm.  And of course we always appreciate the generous support of NH Audubon members and other individuals.