Written by Bryan Watts
September 9, 2009
One of the key strategies to recover peregrine falcons in eastern North America was the release of captive-reared birds into the mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain by a management technique known as “hacking” [learn about hacking at VaFalcons site]. In order to accomplish this objective, a large number of towers were constructed within the region between 1975 and 1985. These towers were initially used for the release of young falcons but as these birds returned and formed pairs they became breeding sites. Since the mid-1980s the breeding population along the seaside of the Delmarva Peninsula has grown and become one of the densest breeding sites on the continent.
The Delmarva (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia peninsula) seaside is an important site with international status for breeding, migrating, and wintering water birds. The fact that many of these species are declining and of high conservation concern has lead to an ongoing evaluation of tradeoffs between waterbird conservation and peregrine recovery within this location [link to this issue’s story, Conservation Conflicts: Peregrine falcons and Red Knots]. Because of its location relative to important shorebird stopover areas and significant breeding areas for piping plovers and American oystercatchers, the Metompkin tower is of particular concern. In January of 2010, a joint decision was made by The Center for Conservation Biology (CCB), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the state of Virginia to remove the Metompkin tower.
The Metompkin Tower was constructed in 1983, and in 1984 a single bird was present during the breeding season. In 1985, a pair was formed. Since that time, CCB and the state have managed the tower and 4 generations of biologists have worked with the peregrine falcons. Pairs nesting on the tower have produced 54 chicks. These chicks have dispersed to breed in many locations throughout the region.
On 16 January, Bryan Watts and Libby Mojica of CCB, Alex Wilke and Marcus Killmon of TNC, and Matt Ramah took boats out to the site to remove the tower. The tower was cut down and all parts were barged back to the mainland for disposal. Removal of the Metompkin tower follows the removal of the Chincoteague tower and the Fisherman Island box in the winter of 2008.