Peregrine falcons have long fascinated humans with their beauty and impressive aerodynamics—these birds of prey can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour during their dramatic dives. Once found across North America, the species all but disappeared over much of the continent only a few years ago, but they're making a dramatic comeback. Several parks offer important habitat along with opportunities to see the birds, and part of the recovery effort requires a little help from park visitors.
Information from Big Bend National Park illustrates how far efforts to save the species have come in just a few years.
By the time the Peregrine falcon was placed on the federal Endangered Species list in 1970, the birds had all but disappeared from the eastern seaboard and were barely hanging on in isolated sites in the west.
Factors in the decline of peregrine populations includes poisoning by pesticides, heavy metals and other contaminants, loss of habitat and even the weather.
Beginning in the late 1980’s and accelerating between 1992 and 1996, productivity (the number of young/successful eyrie) of Big Bend Peregrines fell to alarmingly low levels. This period coincided with extended drought conditions in the area.
Thanks to hard work by a host of agencies, organizations and individuals, the birds are returning to parts of their former range, and some of that success is due to seasonal efforts to protect key nesting sites.
Several parks institute temporary seasonal closures of a small number of trails, climbing routes and backcountry areas to protect nesting areas for the birds—but to be successful, those efforts require the cooperation of park visitors. Here's a sampling of some of those closures that will be in effect for part of the current year, along with some tips on a prime location to enjoy viewing the birds.
Zion National Park in Utah includes some excellent peregrine territory. According to the park,
Zion has been and continues to be an important sanctuary for peregrines and other species. Even when peregrine populations were plummeting elsewhere, peregrines have continued to successfully nest and raise their young on the tall cliffs found in many canyons in the park.
Historically, Zion National Park has hosted 18 known territories used by breeding peregrine falcons. In some locations in the park, peregrine falcon nesting cliffs also host popular climbing routes.
Climbing routes on cliffs used by nesting peregrine falcons at Zion National Park will be temporarily closed on March 1, 2010, in order to protect the nesting success of this bird which is in recovery from “endangered species” status. The closing date is based on analysis of information collected from 2001-2009 regarding the peregrines’ arrival time to their nesting cliffs in the park.
Park biologists will continue to monitor nesting activity of peregrine falcons in the park throughout the 2010 breeding season. Climbing routes that were previously used for nesting by peregrines, but are not being used this year, will be re-opened in May. Cliffs used by nesting peregrines this year will be monitored until the chicks fledge, usually in late July, and then reopened.
You'll find more details and a list of the areas involved at Zion at this link. The park website will include up-to-date information on the status and maps of the closed climbing cliffs and routes, and this information will be updated as routes are reopened.
At Big Bend National Park, several temporary annual closures are already in effect to help protect peregrine territory.
Those areas include the Southeast Rim Trail, a portion of the Northeast Rim Trail, and all Southeast Rim campsites as well as Northeast (NE) campsites 4 and 5.
All of those areas are closed between February 1 and May 31. Technical rock climbing on rock faces within ¼ mile of known peregrine eyries, as posted, will not be allowed. You'll find additional information on the park website.
Acadia National Park in Maine offers both important nesting areas and great opportunities to view the birds. The park's popular Peregrine Watch program runs from mid-May through mid-August. Volunteers or rangers are on hand with spotting scopes and information to help visitors view nesting site on the cliffs of Champlain Mountain.
To help protect nesting sites at Acadia, several trails are normally closed each year between March 15 and August 15. These locations may be opened earlier if the park wildlife biologist determines the falcons are not nesting on the cliff. You'll find a list of those trails here.
Such closures are an important part of efforts to help return these birds to their former range—and they're paying off. According to the NPS,
Today peregrine falcons are likely present in over 159 parks. Peregrine falcons are found in large parks such as Yellowstone and also in urban parks such as National Capital Parks East in Washington, D. C
If you'd like more information about peregrine recovery work in the national parks, you'll find it on this NPS website.