Peregrine Falcon nests in western North Carolina

i Nov 9th No Comments by

Attempts to re-introduce nesting Peregrine Falcons to western North Carolina continue to be successful.  Beginning in 1984 with the release of four captive bred falcons, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission hacked (captive bred and released) Peregrine Falcons in several sites in Appalachian North Carolina through 1997.  Western North Carolina has several sites suited for the birds, with many steep, exposed rock faces that the species prefers.

Since then, NCWRC staff and volunteers have located several potential nesting spots and monitored them every year for Falcon breeding activity, recording the number of wild fledged young when the Falcons do nest successfully.  While Peregrine Falcon has been delisted from the Federal Endangered Species list, due to significant increases in the western part of the species’ North American range, it’s still protected by the state of North Carolina and remains an uncommon breeder in the Appalachians of North Carolina.

Here’s a summary of 2010 peregrine falcon nest results for North Carolina as reported by Chris Kelly of the NCWRC.  Many are great spots for birders who want to get a look at the birds too!

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) , photo from Steve Spitzer, used with permission

* 10 of the 13 “known” territories were occupied this year.  Falcons were not found at Moore’s Wall, Buzzard’s Roost, or Shortoff Mountain.
* 2 “new” pairs were found this year: Pickens Nose and Victory Wall.
* Nest success improved:  58%. Seven of 12 nesting pairs were successful in raising young.
* Productivity improved: 1.25 nestlings/pair (based on 15 nestlings from 12 nesting pairs).
* Second year females were found at three sites: Big Lost Cove, Grandfather Mountain, and NC Wall.  The female at Grandfather Mtn was banded; first instance of a banded PEFA found nesting in western NC.  Her state of origin could not be determined.

Here are the detailed site summaries:

Big Lost Cove (Avery County)
* Result:  nest failure
* Observations:  The female was a sub-adult based on plumage.
* History:  Falcons were first discovered at this site in 1997 and have reared nine chicks. They were successful for four of the first five years and were successful in 2008-09.

Hickory Nut Gorge (Rutherford County)
* Result:  Two (2) fledglings.
* Observations:  Nesting activity observed at Blue Rock early in season, then they were not often seen. Reece Mitchell observed fledglings in early June. Based on activity and white wash, suspect the birds nested at Blue Rock, approx 1 mi up the gorge from Chimney Rock.
* History:  First successful nest since 1990.

Devil’s Courthouse (Transylvania County)
* Result:  Nest failure
* Observations:  Pair on territory.
* History:  The pair at Devil’s Courthouse has been successful eight of the last eleven years, raising a total of 14 chicks. This cliff is a popular tourist attraction on the Blue Ridge Parkway and an easy place for birders to get a good view of the falcons’ breeding activities.

Grandfather Mountain (Avery County)
* Result:  unknown
* Observations:  Second year, banded female on territory with adult male. Active at usual nest ledge, but not clear if they nested.
* History:  Grandfather Mountain is very remote with plenty of rock faces. A total of 9 chicks have been raised here.

Hanging Rock State Park (Stokes County)
* Result:  Unoccupied
* Observations:  Falcons were not observed during two four-hour observation sessions, along with several shorter observation sessions throughout the winter and spring.
* History:  Falcons returned to Hanging Rock in 2007 after a three year absence and have been successful three times (2001, 2007, and 2008) raising at least three chicks. The falcons face considerable competition from the many ravens and vultures in the area.

Shortoff Mountain (Linville Gorge, Burke County)
* Result:  unoccupied
* Observations:  Falcons were seen on just one occasion near the nest ledge.
* History: A pair has been in the gorge at NC Wall, Shortoff, or Gold Coast every year since reintroduction began.  Although falcons were largely unsuccessful at first, they have produced 24 fledglings in the past eleven years.

North Carolina Wall (Linville Gorge, Burke County)
* Result:  Nest failure
* Observations:  Second year female and adult male on territory.
* History:  North Carolina Wall is the site of the earliest post-reintroduction nesting attempts in Linville Gorge (1987-2000). NC Wall and Shortoff Mtn are now the two closest known nesting sites, less than three miles apart.

Looking Glass (Transylvania County)
* Result:  Three (3) fledglings.
* Observations:  Following a few years of nest failure, this site was successful this year.
* History:  In 1957, Looking Glass hosted the last known pair of falcons before the species was extirpated from North Carolina. A total of 31 chicks have fledged here, including 19 in the past eleven years.

Panthertail Mountain (Transylvania County)
* Result:  Two (2) nestlings.
* History:  Falcons were first successful at Panthertail in 1995. Since then, 29 chicks have fledged from this site.

Buzzard’s Roost (Pigeon River Gorge, Haywood County)
* Result:  unoccupied
* Observations:  Due to the I-40 rock slide closure, the first opportunity to visit the site was in May, late in the nesting season. Falcons were not observed on two visits, though there was fresh white wash.
* History:  In 2004, a pair established a territory but nesting was not documented.

White Rock (Madison County)
* Result: Two (2) fledglings
* Observations:  New nest ledge on the right side of the cliff.
* History:  The female was a sub-adult in 2008 and had the distinct blond wash of a young bird in 2009.

Whiteside Mountain (Jackson County)
* Result:  Two (2) fledglings
* Observations:  New nest ledge on right side of the cliff.
* History:  This enormous cliff has been the most successful peregrine falcon breeding site in North Carolina since 1984. A total of 45 chicks (28 in the past ten years) have fledged at Whiteside.

Dunn’s Rock (Transylvania County)
* Result:  Nest failure
* Observations:  Pair on territory. Lots of vulture activity near the eyrie.
* History:  The pair nested successfully in 2007.

Chris also checked a few secondary sites this year. These are sites where there is decent cliff nesting habitat, but no records (recently or ever) of nesting peregrines.

Pickens Nose (Macon County)
* Result:  Minimum two (2) fledglings
* Observations:  No clear view of the eyrie.  Adults active at site all spring. Could hear at least two young calling.  Later observed one fledgling at a time flying.
* History:  A birder reported PEFAs at this site in 2009.  Pickens Nose was historically used as a hack site during PEFA reintroductions.

Victory Wall (Haywood County)
* Result:  Two (2) nestlings.
* Observations: Two young observed in nest before leaves blocked view.
* History:  Falcons were observed nesting here in the 1990s, then moved to Devil’s Courthouse. In June 2009, NCWRC observed an adult PEFA on territory, but it was too late in the season to determine if nesting had taken place.