Wildlife biologists monitoring peregrine falcons in Portland

Posted June 01, 2011, at 4:30 p.m.
Two Peregrine falcon chicks sit in their nest along a Portland bridge.
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Photo
Two Peregrine falcon chicks sit in their nest along a Portland bridge.

PORTLAND,  Maine — A popular pair of Peregrine falcons continue to get special attention from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

MDIF&W staff recently was joined by associates from the BioDiversity Institute and the Maine Department of Transportation to band Peregrine falcon chicks and collect data from a popular nesting site along a Portland bridge.

“It’s part of an ongoing monitoring program to keep track of individual birds,” said MDIF&W Wildlife Biologist Judy Camuso. “We want to learn as much as we can about where they live and how long they live, and about where they travel and how they move.”

Peregrine falcons were recently de-listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, though they remain endangered in Maine. Fewer than 30 pairs of nesting adults are documented here. The birds are among the fastest on the planet, and they are popular with birdwatchers from the serious to the recreational.

“It’s an aggressive bird with unbelievable aerial acrobatic abilities,” Camuso said. “They fly extremely fast, and they knock their prey out of the air to kill them. They’re exciting to watch.

“It’s our responsibility as an agency to make sure they are able to breed and live successfully in the state.”

This marked the fourth year that biologists visited the Portland nesting site, unusual for its proximity to humans. The site has been made especially popular with Maine’s birding community through a live webcam on the nest, a camera allowing thousands of viewers to watch the birds.

Typically, Peregrine falcons are cliff-nesters and many inhabit the state’s western mountains.

Three chicks were discovered at the nest site, all hatched out roughly three weeks ago. They are another two weeks away from flying on their own, which makes this the perfect time to visit the site, band the chicks and monitor their overall health.

One unhatched egg was collected and taken for testing. Peregrine females typically lay four eggs, with three or four chicks hatching out.

Peregrine falcons will actively defend their nest. While biologists collected the chicks from the nest, the adult birds swooped ferociously at close to 90 miles per hour to try and ward off the humans.

“These guys are great,” Camuso said. “They’re in a secluded spot, but we have great access to them. Typically, it takes about half an hour for us to go in, collect the chicks, band and monitor them. It’s low-stress for them — and it gives us the ability to have some fantastic data.”

The adult male is the same Peregrine that was at the nest site last year, and it is believed the female is the same, though it is difficult to determine exactly. The male was banded previously by MDIF&W staff.

Peregrines will migrate some, though they are also just as likely to remain at a site once they have successfully set up a nest and have plenty food and shelter available to them.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife encourages people to check out a live webcam at the Portland bridge nest site by visiting http://briloon.org/watching-wildlife/peregrine-cam.php

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