With a little nudge, falcons soar back

From a nest tucked on the underbelly of the Dunn Memorial Bridge to the vast expanse of the Adironda

From a nest tucked on the underbelly of the Dunn Memorial Bridge to the vast expanse of the Adirondacks, the peregrine falcon is making a dramatic comeback, nudged along by man.

The bird, written about in folklore and myth, was near extinction in the late 1960s because of DDT and other pesticides, but with a reduction in these chemicals in the environment, populations have steadily climbed.

The year 2007 was record-setting, with 63 pairs of peregrine falcons in New York state, compared with 19 in 1990.

To help the bird’s comeback, the state Department of Environmental Conservation this spring has closed certain rock climbing trails in the Adirondacks so nests are not disturbed.

And in Albany, for the 11th consecutive year, the peregrine falcons returned to the nesting box that hangs below the Dunn Memorial Bridge and laid a clutch of five eggs.

Three eggs have hatched and two intact eggs remain in the nest box, said DEC spokeswoman Lori O’Connell.

The bird’s decline and comeback show science can create problems, but also solve problems, said state wildlife pathologist Ward Stone. “As parents, we’ve got to have hope for children. What the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle — problems that were tackled in the 1960s and ’70s — show is that we humans have the capability of solving a lot of environmental problems.”

The Hudson River was cleaned up and DDT and associated compounds and pesticides were reduced, which allowed the peregrine falcon to reproduce, said Stone.

This year, the first egg was laid March 14 in the nesting box at the Dunn Memorial Bridge and the fifth on March 26. (Before this, the earliest date was March 17, in 2004).

Eggs will not hatch if they are infertile or if the developing embryos died; if that happens this year, any unhatched eggs will be analyzed by DEC biologists, said O’Connell.

The state in 2000 set up the “peregrine falcon cam,” which provides a view into the nest box. It can be seen on the state Department of Environmental Conservation Web site or at a kiosk at the Empire State Plaza.

The camera provides minute-to-minute updates of the nest during daylight hours.

A check on 4:41 p.m. Wednesday showed an adult bird in the box. No chicks were visible. But during their first week of life, chicks can’t control their body temperature, so their parents keep them warm by covering them with their bodies, which is called brooding.

The adult female spends most of her time with her new brood as the male hunts. He kills and delivers enough prey to the nest box to feed the mate and chicks.

In the second week, chicks are still covered with white down, but are growing rapidly and get too large to fit underneath the adults. At this stage, they do little but eat and sleep, according to the DEC.

By the third week, darker body feathers begin to emerge through the fluffy white down and in the fourth week, nestlings have lost that chick appearance. Strong enough to stand on their toes, they move around the nest box, according to the DEC.

The chicks start venturing out of the nest box by 41⁄2 weeks to explore more of their surroundings. They exercise their wings and legs.

At about 6 weeks old, the chicks try to fly.

At that point, bird watchers might get a better view by visiting the Rensselaer Riverfront Park on Broadway in the city of Rensselaer to see adults hunt for prey and defend their nesting territory. The DEC suggests bringing along a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope for optimal viewing.

The peregrine, about the size of a crow, is brown when young and light gray as an adult. It can fly at speeds of up to 180 mph, making it one of the world’s fastest creatures.

Besides the Dunn Memorial site, peregrine falcons nest on many bridges on the Hudson River between Albany and New York and they nest on many cliffs in the Adirondack Park.

Cliffs with known peregrine falcon nesting sites are monitored annually throughout the Adirondacks, and rock climbing routes with active nest sites are temporarily closed to prevent any disturbances that might interfere with the successful raising of the young peregrine falcons.

The closure of climbing routes is based on several factors including the route’s proximity and visibility to a nesting site.

Each situation is unique; there is not a formula used to make a decision to close the trail.

At the beginning of the season, whole or large portions of cliffs where peregrine falcons have regularly nested are closed. This allows the birds to choose a nesting site without being troubled by climbing activity.

The peregrine falcon was removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999, but is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits killing them, possessing them for falconry or transporting them.

Adirondack rock-climbing routes closed include:

* Moss Cliff–Wilmington Notch: All routes.

* Washbowl Cliffs–Chapel Pond: All routes on both Upper and Lower Washbowl Cliffs.

* Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain: All routes on the Main Face are closed, except Opposition, Goat’s Foot on Rock, High and Dry, Bushmaster, Big Buddha, Bushido, Bodacious, Pearly Gates, Kaibob, Battle Creek, Static Cling, Certified Raw, Air Male, Son of a Mother, Phase III, Bastard, Ladder, Puppies on Edge, Hang ’Em High, Group Therapy, Adonis, Pandemonium, Discord and A Womb with a View.

Categories: Schenectady County

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