Written by Elizabeth Mojica
May 9, 2009
Peregrine falcons in Virginia had another successful breeding season in 2009, producing 50 young falcons. The breeding population of falcons was extirpated in the state by the mid-1960s, but 30 years of intensive management efforts by The Center for Conservation Biology (CCB), in partnership with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and other organizations, have resulted in the current 21 breeding pairs.
Twenty falcon pairs made breeding attempts in 2009 producing 65 eggs and 50 chicks that survived to banding age. The reproductive rate was 2.4 chicks/occupied territory and 2.5 chicks/active territory. Of the 19 clutches that were followed completely from laying to fledging, 53 of 61 (86.9%) eggs hatched, 48 of the 53 (90.6%) chicks survived to banding age, and 41 (77.4%) fledged successfully.
A majority of the breeding pairs in Virginia nest on artificial structures: 10 man-made peregrine towers, 1 fishing shack, 6 bridges, 1 ship, 1 power plant stack, and 1 high-rise building. Chicks were removed from dangerous nest structures like bridges where there historically has been low fledging success. These chicks were translocated to the Virginia and West Virginia mountains as part of an on-going reintroduction program.
In 2009, CCB continued efforts to reintroduce falcons to the mountains through hacking programs at two National Parks: Shenandoah and New River Gorge. Nineteen young falcons from Virginia were released in the mountains this spring in the hopes they will return to breed on the rocky cliff faces that were their historic breeding sites. New breeding pairs were observed at both parks this year, confirming the success of the reintroduction program. The hacking program would not be possible without the continued support of the National Park Service and the state wildlife agencies of both Virginia and West Virginia.
The ultimate goal of Virginia’s falcon program is to recover a population that is self-sustaining. Currently, the population’s dependence on artificial nest structures requires intensive management to reduce nest depredation and increase fledging success. CCB will continue to monitor population trends and improve reproductive performance through active management until we reach our goal for Virginia’s falcons.