NH Fish and Game and NH Audubon

Chris Martin, NH Audubon, 603/224-9909
John Kanter, NHFG, 603/271-3017
Jane Vachon, NHFG, 603/271-3211
September 23, 2009

State's Peregrine Falcons Move Nesting Areas, but Post Record Number of Young

CONCORD, N.H. -- Peregrine falcons in New Hampshire produced 29 young this year, more than in any other breeding season during the past half-century.  Territorial peregrines in the state used 15 natural cliffs, one urban building and the area around a major hydroelectric dam as places to live and raise their young in 2009.  In Manchester, the state's best-known falcon pair surprised everyone by moving one mile down Elm Street to nest successfully across from City Hall.  In the Connecticut River valley, a cave-like nest ledge used for 22 consecutive years was passed over for a new ledge on the same cliff.  And another pair of peregrines living in the Seacoast region hopped 100 feet over the border to raise three chicks on the Maine side of the Piscataqua River bridge. 

Breeding peregrine numbers in New Hampshire, and across the entire eastern United States, had declined to near zero by the 1960s, when levels of the pesticide DDT in songbirds and other prey items disrupted their ability to hatch viable eggs.  After almost two decades without any successful nesting in New England, a peregrine pair nesting in Franconia Notch in 1981 became the first to produce chicks at an historical nesting cliff.  Intensive recovery efforts, followed by sustained monitoring and management, led to a gradual peregrine population rebound.  As a result, in September 2008, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department upgraded the status of this fastest flying raptor in the state from endangered to threatened. 

A record-high 29 young peregrines reached fledging age in New Hampshire in 2009, surpassing the previous high of 27 young fledged last year.  Biologists and volunteer observers affiliated with New Hampshire Audubon checked a total of 36 potential breeding sites in the state this year and confirmed 17 occupied territories, down one from 2008.  Fifteen of the 17 occupied sites hosted falcon pairs, and two sites supported only single adults.  Observers documented incubation behavior by 13 of the state's 15 territorial pairs in 2009, down from 16 of 17 in 2008.  Of this year's 13 incubating pairs, 12 (92%) hatched at least one egg.  All 12 pairs that hatched eggs successfully fledged young in 2009, also down slightly from a state record-high of 13 successful pairs in 2008.

After eight consecutive years of producing young in a nest box installed on the Brady-Sullivan Tower near the Amoskeag Bridge, Manchester's falcon pair moved one mile down Elm Street to nest on the Citizens Bank building.  "We were looking for them in their usual spot, but they weren't there, and the camera showed an empty nest!" said Chris Martin, a N. H. Audubon's raptor specialist, who coordinates the state's peregrine management efforts.  "The female falcon laid her eggs on a narrow decorative ledge at Citizens Bank -- right over Elm Street -- and when the chicks were three weeks old, we moved them into a more secure nest box located on the roof."   All three chicks ultimately fledged without incident.  Juvenile peregrines are considered fledged at six weeks of age, when they first begin to fly to and from the nest.

Holts Ledge in Lyme, N.H., is an historical nesting site with a photo record dating back as far as 1928.  Observers monitoring the cliff in 2009 reported that for the first time in 23 years, falcons selected a new nesting ledge, passing over a deep cave that had been used for a nesting each year since peregrines first reoccupied the cliff in 1987.

New Hampshire set a new record high for peregrine fledglings in 2009, in spite of giving up claim to a pair nesting in Portsmouth Harbor.  In 2007 and 2008, this pair nested in the bridge's superstructure, using two different hollow vertical beams located on the New Hampshire side of the state line, and fledging one chick each year.  In 2009, they used a similar beam, but one located on the Maine side.  "Both states can't count the same breeding pair, so we generally credit them to the state where the eggs are laid," said Martin.

Management of the state's recovering peregrine falcon population is carried out by N.H. Audubon, working under contract with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program.  Management actions include tracking recreational use at cliffs, posting temporary closures on rock climbing routes when needed, and providing technical advice to natural resource agencies and to the public.  N.H. Audubon also recruits, trains, and deploys volunteer observers to document peregrine distribution and productivity and to band young.

Martin, aided by several rock-climbing volunteers, accessed six peregrine nests in the state in 2009, examining and banding 15 nestlings and recovering four non-viable eggs.  He estimates that roughly 35% of New Hampshire's breeding adult peregrines currently wear color-coded leg-bands.  Notable highlights among banded peregrines seen in 2009:  a 7-year-old female raised in Dixville Notch that breeds in the Sandwich Range of the White Mountains, but winters in Concord; a 6-year-old female from Milford, Connecticut, that breeds in Lyme, N.H.; and a 2-year-old male from Lyme now nesting just across border in Fairlee, Vermont.
Since the removal of peregrines from the federal Endangered List in 1999, New Hampshire has participated in a national breeding site sampling study to detect any major changes in peregrine breeding populations on a regional scale.  Coordinated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the study tracks breeding activity at five peregrine territories on a triennial basis (in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015).  Three (60%) of New Hampshire's five sites produced a total of six young in 2009.

New Hampshire Audubon, a non-profit membership organization, is dedicated to the conservation of wildlife and habitat throughout the state.  For more information about New Hampshire Audubon visit www.nhaudubon.org.

To learn more about the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, visit www.wildnh.com/nongame.

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