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Wildlife Watch: Peregrine falcons

Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 4:45 PM EDT
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ADDISON, Vt. (WCAX) - The work to rehabilitate Vermont’s peregrine falcon population has been largely successful over the last few years, but Vermont Fish & Wildlife officials says the raptors are still having some issues when it comes to nesting.

Snake Mountain is a popular hiking spot in Addison County. It’s also a popular nesting spot for peregrine falcons.

“You can see some perches up there for sure,” says Vermont Fish & Wildlife biologist Doug Morin, as he sets up a spotting scope at the base of the mountain. “What you will observe -- and we usually go for a four-hour window -- what you will observe is a brief interaction where one bird goes in somewhere and another bird goes out, and you think its that same bird that just went in and came out or was that two different birds. And by seeing a pattern of where they are coming and going from, that’s where you are guessing where your nest is.”

It’s part of the department’s work to monitor the state’s 56 known pairs of falcons, a species that is no longer on the state’s endangered list.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: How important are the falcons for the ecosystem here in Vermont?

Doug Morin: Well, falcons are one of our native species. We have more then 300 species of birds that are documented in Vermont and probably about 250 that regularly breed in the state, so they are a part of that natural landscape. They are one of our only species that are nesting on cliffs. Going after birds are their main prey item, so they are a part of the ecological web of the state.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: Why do they nest in the cliffs?

Doug Morin: Safety. Their ideal spot is going to be a little flat ledge with an overhang above it, so that way it's hard for predators to get at them from any direction, they are covered from the elements -- they are incredibly safe there.

For a while, these cliffs were home to one pair of nesting falcons. "We know from our volunteer that it was active this spring, and then they abandon at some point. So, that could be weather related with that late snow and they choose a place that wasn't too unprotected, or it could be a predator got there, or it could be people were too close," Morin said.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: This is a popular hiking spot. Do you blame hikers or people interaction at all?

Doug Morin: We never know for sure, but we do try to safeguard against the disturbance of people. So, at all of our spots where were have a trail nearby, or a popular climbing spot, we post signage at the trailhead and the top of the cliffs to ask people to try to stay away during the nesting period, which is generally about August 1st.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: If a hiker is on the normal path and they see signs of a falcon, what do you suggest they do?

Doug Morin: It's not uncommon for people to see a falcon nearby -- maybe one -- and in that case it's usually not an issue. If a bird is really near you and making a calling sound, it may be that that bird is getting disturbed by your presence, particularly if you are at the top of a cliff

This year, locals like Bob Schatz say Snake Mountain is a hot spot forr hikers. “It’s been extremely -- probably one of the busiest years I have ever seen since I have been up here,” he said. Schatz lives near the trailhead and says he thinks human disturbance could have disturbed the nesting falcons

"It's very possible, because I'm betting that a lot of people don't see the signage or don't take the time to read the signage," he said.

But even though the one pair has taken off, Morin says Vermont’s peregrine population is still on the rise.

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