Virginia peregrine falcon monitoring and management program: Year 2017 report

B. D. Watts, The Center for Conservation Biology
M U. Watts, The Center for Conservation Biology


The peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) was believed to be extirpated as a breeding species in Virginia by the early 1960s. An aggressive restoration program was initiated in 1978 that included the release of 115 captive-reared birds on the Coastal Plain (1978-1985) and 127 birds in the mountains (1985-1993). This program resulted in the first breeding of the modern era in 1982. Since this time, the population has proceeded through a rapid establishment phase followed by a consolidation phase. However, more than 95% of all breeding activity over the past 30 years has occurred on the Coastal Plain with very limited breeding within the historic mountain range. Since 2000 a dedicated translocation program has moved more than 250 birds from eyries on the coast to hack sites in the mountains in an effort to restore the mountain breeding population. Restoration of the breeding population in the mountains continues to be a management priority for the state. In 2017, Virginia supported a known falcon population of 29 breeding pairs including 26 within the Coastal Plain, 1 in the Piedmont and 2 in the mountains. This represents the fifth consecutive year that the population has exceeded 25 breeding pairs but is 2 pairs less than the record year of 2016. New breeding territories were documented on a smokestack along the Rappahannock River and a bridge across the Chickahominy River. Long-time territories including the Norris Bridge, Watts Island and the Highrise Bridge (I-64) were vacant in 2017. Single birds were observed on the I-295 bridge across the James and on Stony Man within Shenandoah National Park. 2017 was a mixed breeding year with a relatively high hatching rate (81%, 56 of 69 eggs hatched) but some losses both before banding (16.1%, 9 of 56 young lost) and after fledging (3 young known to be lost post-fledging). Of 21 clutches that were followed completely from laying to fledging, 41 of 53 (77.4%) eggs hatched and 35 of 41 (85.4%) young survived to banding age. The reproductive rate (1.62 young/occupied territory) was considerably lower than in recent years. Efforts continued in 2017 to identify breeding adults via field-readable bands to better understand dispersal and demography throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The banding status of 47 (81%) of the 58 adult peregrines known within the breeding population was determined. Ten (21%) of the 47 birds were unbanded. The alpha-numerics were read for 29 adults and of these the USGS bands have been recorded for 26. Of the banded birds where state of origin could be determined, 22 were from VA, 5 from NJ and 3 from MD. All three of the unknown birds had silver USGS and were likely from MD. The natal territories were determined for 25 adults. Birds ranged in age from 2 to 17 years old. Bands for 12 additional falcons were read and reported over the past year. Seven of these birds (all females) originated in Virginia and were found breeding in other states (Table 5). This included 3 birds in Pennsylvania and 4 birds in New Jersey. A second-year female was photographed multiple times on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. A hatch-year male from Richmond was photographed in Lyndhurst, NJ and a hatch-year female that had been hacked in Shenandoah National Park was photographed near Silver Lake in Rockingham County, VA. A 5-year old female was identified in Westchester, NY during the early breeding season and may have been on territory.