Peregrine falcons, the fastest diving raptor in the world, had disappeared as nesting a bird in the eastern United States by the early 1960s.
The heavy use of the insecticide DDT during the 1940s and 1950s was the reason.
The chemicals got into the falcon’s system and caused eggshell thinning, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The use of DDT was banned in the United States and an aggressive, experimental peregrine restoration program was started.
Falcons raised in captivity were released into the wild starting in the early 1970s.
“The experiment worked,” said Barbara Allen Loucks, a research scientist with DEC’s endangered species unit. “The birds could be released, survived, and were breeding.”
Loucks’ latest report on the peregrine falcon, an endangered species in New York State, says that 2009 was a record-setting year for the success of the birds in the state.
The DEC survey shows there were 73 territorial pairs of peregrine falcons in the state last year, with 42 of these pairs recorded upstate. That’s an increase from 67 pairs recorded statewide in 2008. A total of 61 falcon pairs bred in 2009 and produced 132 young birds, an increase from 2008.
Peregrine falcons like to nest in cliffs and other high places such as bridges and skyscrapers.
The peregrine falcon, which is about the size of a crow, is the fastest bird in the world, Loucks said. They can reach up to 250 mph when diving for prey.
The falcons have a diet almost completely of birds; they rarely eat rodents.
In the Capital Region, a pair of peregrines has been nesting in the upper area of the Dunn Memorial Bridge that runs over the Hudson River between Albany and Rensselaer.
“They are just getting into egg laying,” Loucks said about the pair.
The DEC has an Internet Web camera set up so that when the chicks hatch, people can log on and watch them. The Webcam also provides live pictures of the young peregrines at a DEC booth in the concourse of the Empire State Plaza.
The Webcam is not currently activated but will be in April when the hatching period starts. For details see: www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7059.html.
Loucks said the return of the peregrine falcon in New York State has been a cooperative effort, involving DEC, volunteers, and the Peregrine Fund, a global nonprofit organization based at Cornell University and focused on conserving birds of prey.
“The program is working,” Loucks said. She added that now DEC and others are trying to nurture the peregrine falcons in the state by protecting and managing them.
“Nests on every bridge from Albany to New York City,” Loucks said.
DEC staff members and others, including volunteers, place small leg bands on the young falcons so they can be tracked. A total of 60 young peregrine falcons were banded in New York State in 2009.
There is a healthy population of peregrines living in the Adirondacks and also pairs in western New York, including Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Rochester and Syracuse.
“The 2009 reports show that it was a successful year for New York State’s efforts to restore the peregrine falcon population,” said DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. “The record-breaking numbers are a positive sign, not only for the environment but also for the work carried out by DEC’s endangered species program,” he said in a prepared statement.
Loucks’ report says there are 27 pairs of peregrine falcons nesting in the Adirondacks.
“There are probably more pairs up there we don’t know about,” she said. Some cliffs and mountain ledges in the Adirondacks are off-limits to rock climbers because they are known falcon nesting areas.
The peregrines nesting in bridges and skyscrapers up and down the Hudson River and in New York City need to be protected when repairs are made. The DEC and others have placed nesting boxes in some of the sites. Peregrines don’t build nests of sticks like many raptors, but instead lay their brownish eggs on whatever material is available.
Loucks said, for example, the DEC receives a great deal of cooperation from the state Department of Transportation on the Dunn Memorial bridge. State DOT workers help put identification bands on the falcon’s legs and monitor their nesting box.
The peregrine falcon remains on the state’s endangered species list but has been taken off the federal endangered species list because of the recent success.
New York state has the largest population of peregrines in the eastern United States.