NY: Fewer peregrine nests last year in Adirondacks
Report says lack of staff hindered monitoring efforts
RAY BROOK — A report from the state Department of Environmental Conservation says that peregrine falcon breeding was down last year, but also notes that a lack of staffing is hindering monitoring efforts of the cliff-dwelling raptors.
The report, put out by the Division of Fish and Wildlife, found that out of 19 confirmed nesting sites — eyries — 11 were successful, producing a total of 16 falcon chicks.
The report says the average of 1.45 chicks per breeding pair is low for the region, which includes nesting sites in the Lake George, Lake Champlain and Northern Adirondack areas.
But the report also says that DEC is not providing sufficient support to effectively monitor the birds, which are listed as endangered by New York but are not on the federal endangered species list.
“A lack of staff has prevented the proper investigation in potential nesting sites over the past few years,” the report reads. “The results from 2014 are skewed due to the complete lack of staff for peregrine monitoring.”
The report notes that the 25 sites monitored in 2017 is more than double the 12 monitored in 2014. In 2013, the report says 42 eyrie sites were watched.
“As staffing levels continue to shrink while workloads grow, it becomes much more difficult to collect meaningful data,” the report continues.
The report notes that in 2012, a DEC “biologist, a fish and wildlife technician, an intern and paid contractors all worked together on monitoring.” The DEC also relies on volunteers — especially rock climbers — for information on eyrie locations and the presence or absence of falcons in some locations.
The report also notes there are practical implications with the lack of staff.
“Either an earlier employment date should be set or a permanent position be implemented due to the fact that intense, early monitoring is crucial to the program’s success,” the “Recommendations” section of the report reads. “With the appointment of new technicians every year, the gain of institutional knowledge is hindered, causing the technician to immediately fall behind each year.”
A DEC spokesman pushed back against these claims, saying the report was released prematurely.
“In fact, staff levels in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Region 5 Wildlife Program have remained stable since 2012,” DEC spokesman David Winchell wrote in an email. “During that time staff assignments have changed to reflect DEC’s objectives and the fortunate recovery of the peregrine falcon has allowed DEC to refocus our efforts on other wildlife priorities.
“The recovery of peregrine falcon populations in New York State is a success story for wildlife management. The report concludes that overall the peregrine falcons have been extremely successful in the Northern Adirondack and Lake Champlain regions.
“Given the range of priorities of DEC Wildlife staff and the recovery of peregrine falcon population, the staff assigned is adequate. DEC regularly reviews staff allocation and program priorities, and assigns staff accordingly.”
DEC staff and volunteers watch the eyries from April through August, when sites are established and chicks are hatched and reared.
The report notes that the region received 8.78 inches of rain last June, which is 3.5 inches more than the historical average. The wet weather can cause problems with eggs and hatchlings, as well as hinder adult falcons’ ability to effectively hunt. Other species, such as turkey vultures, ravens and broad-winged hawks, were also watched during the monitoring period.
To that end, DEC staff determined that a possible peregrine site on Azure Mountain is actually a turkey vulture rookery, saying “the cliffs should continue to be monitored but an initial site visit early in the nesting season each year will likely provide the same observations.”
Staff also added a new monitoring site based on reports from a hiker in the central Adirondacks.
“Our office had received a report of adult peregrines engaging in courtship displays and nesting behaviors such as prey and nest exchanges,” the reports says. “Upon gaining access to the Tahawus Mine property, the cliffs were easily observed. Obvious falcon whitewash was documented though only a single bird was ever seen.
“The site will be added to the regular site monitoring list, allowing for early observation in the future.”
Rock climbing closures
Since peregrines nest on cliffs, the birds are often on or near popular rock climbing routes. Each year, the DEC closes many climbing routes — such as on Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain — early in the spring and only opens the routes after the falcon chicks have fledged or the nest has been confirmed as failed.
“The historic peregrine falcon eyrie sites of the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain region are now famously known for adventure style rock climbing,” the report states. “The large sheer rock cliffs offer some of the best known climbing but are highly conducive to the breeding of peregrine falcons. Disturbances can cause the peregrine falcons to leave the nest during incubation or brooding.
“This leaves the eggs or chicks vulnerable to the heat, cold, precipitation and predators. Though the young can be left for short periods of time, significant or frequent disturbances can lead to failure.”
The rock climbing community has been supportive of the route closures, and the report notes that climbers often offer to help with monitoring efforts, saying climbers could be useful in a bird-banding operation.
“Experienced rock climbers have expressed on multiple occasions that they would be willing to volunteer to assist a technician in climbing to or near eyries,” the report states. “Not only would banding take place, but possible prey analysis could also be conducted while at the eyrie by collecting remains.”
To read more about peregrine falcons in New York, go to www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7059.html.