By: Bryan Watts
Shenandoah National Park has championed the reintroduction of peregrine falcons back into their historic breeding range in the mountains of Virginia. Since 1989, 215 young falcons have been released within the park. During the winter of 2022-2023, park staff decided that the 2022 hacking season would be their last. This decision closes an important chapter in the effort to recover peregrine falcons in Virginia.
In 1985 the focus of peregrine falcon reintroductions in Virginia shifted from the barrier islands and outer Coastal Plain to the mountains. Shenandoah National Park took an active role in mountain releases hacking 36 captive-reared falcons on Hawksbill from 1989 through 1993. These early release efforts were spearheaded by park biologist Keith Watson. The release of captive-reared falcons was phased out in Virginia following the 1993 hacking season. However, as the population on the Coastal Plain grew and pairs colonized bridges, buildings and smokestacks, the decision was made to translocate wild-reared falcons from sites with poor fledging success to the historic mountain range. Shenandoah National Park agreed to take the lead role in mountain releases.
In 2000, the first 8 wild-reared falcons were translocated from bridges on the Coastal Plain to the hack box on Hawksbill and released. Falcons were translocated to Shenandoah National Park every spring for 23 years and released from various locations within the park including Hawksbill, Blackrock, Hogback Mountain and Franklin Cliffs. In total, an amazing 179 falcons were moved from the coast to Shenandoah National Park and released. The program has been viewed as a win-win. By moving young falcons from risky nesting sites on the coast and moving them to the mountains we could both improve survival of fledglings and hopefully grow the population within the historic range.
Throughout the entire translocation program hacks in Shenandoah National Park have been made possible by the expertise and dedication of park biologist Rolf Gubler. The effort would not have been possible without Rolf’s leadership and commitment. The administration and staff of Shenandoah National Park have been amazing partners in this effort and deserve the heart-felt appreciation of the broader conservation community. Young falcons have dispersed to breed in Virginia and surrounding states.