The Peregrine Falcon Project
The peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a species at risk that is recognized federally to be of ‘special concern’ and is recognized provincially as ‘endangered’. In New Brunswick, there are approximately 15 known nesting sites for the peregrine falcon, which has increased since the 1990s when there were only about five known sites.
In 2005, the Nature Trust initiated a project to contact landowners who were either hosting or living within the vicinity of peregrine nesting sites, providing them with information about the species and how to help ensure their continued recovery. Partnerships with private landowners are essential to conserve habitat for the peregrine falcon and the Nature Trust has been successful in protecting four known nesting sites and two potential nesting sites. On all nature preserves with trails that have known peregrine falcon nesting sites, trail systems have been re-routed to avoid disturbing the species. The Nature Trust also continues to work closely with private landowners, ensuring their cooperation in stewarding for this species on their land.
About the peregrine falcon
The peregrine falcon is a medium-sized bird of prey that has long been admired for its beauty and speed. The name ‘peregrine’ means ‘wanderer’ and this is especially the case for the northern-nesting peregrine falcons, as they may travel over 25,000 km annually along their migration path to their southern wintering grounds in the US or South America.
As one of the fastest animals on earth, they can accelerate to approximately 300 km/h , diving to strike prey such as shorebirds with their fisted talons. Their in-flight hunting maneuvers are spectacular, and are matched only, perhaps, by their high-altitude courtship display. It is not surprising that peregrine falcons have been a symbol of speed and prowess since the days of medieval falconry.
A brush with extinction
The rise of organochlorine pesticides, namely DDT, in the 1950s and 60s saw the peregrine falcon almost eliminated from much of North America by the 1970s. Exposure to these compounds has been linked to reproductive failure in these birds, and other birds of prey, as it causes thinning of egg shells, which are then likely to break during the incubation period. Although a peregrine falcon population has been re-established in eastern Canada through a re-introduction program, their future survival is not certain. We must continue to provide habitat and avoid disturbing nesting peregrines falcons for them to thrive.
Peregrine falcons nest on cliff ledges or tall structures where they are safe from predators. Cliff nesting falcons require their nest sites to be sheltered from human activity, as they are generally sensitive to human disturbances. Even before eggs are laid, falcons may abandon their nest if disturbed by people and they may not re-nest until the following season. If the parents are scared from or forced off of the nest by human activity during the incubation period, the eggs may become too cold overtime and fail to hatch. After the chicks have hatched, there is a risk of them falling from the nest if frightened by human visitors.
Present day local threats to the recovery of the peregrine falcon include the following:
- Recreational activities (e.g. rock climbing, hiking, ATV use, etc.) that may scare or force nesting peregrine falcons and/or chicks from their nest.
- Exploration and development of natural resources (e.g. mining, forestry, wind energy development, etc.) could have negative impacts on nesting peregrine falcons similar to those identified for recreational activities. This is especially the case in areas where there is little human activity, as the peregrine falcons are even more sensitive to human disturbances. This kind of activity also has the potential to discourage a species from nesting in a certain area or, in some cases, may destroy established nests. However, natural resource projects undergo environmental assessment to avoid or mitigate these sort of threats.
- Construction, renovation and maintenance of infrastructure (e.g. buildings, bridges, residential development, etc.) could have negative impacts on peregrine falcons nesting in urban/suburban areas similar to those identified for the recreational activities and exploration and development of natural resources threats. These kind of projects must also undergo environmental assessments to avoid or mitigate these threats to the species.
- Collisions with transportation or infrastructure is a potential threat, as on occasion peregrine falcons have been documented to collide with human infrastructure and aircraft.
- Climate change is a significant threat to the species, as adult peregrine falcons are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions during their fall migration. Heavy rainfall, an anticipated outcome of climate change, also threatens peregrine chicks, as it causes peregrine falcon parents to flee the nest leaving the chicks susceptible to hypothermia and drowning. Change in availability of food due to climate change may also threaten the species.
For more information about threats to peregrine falcons, please see Environment Canada’s Management Plan for the Peregrine Falcon, section 4.
Ways you can help:
- If you encounter a nesting peregrine falcon and/or chicks, take care to not disturb the nest by maintaining a safe distance.
- Private landowners or land managers who have observed nesting peregrine falcons on their land can look into various conservation and stewardship options with the Nature Trust to protect the site for the future. For more information about conservation or voluntary stewardship options with the Nature Trust, contact Aaron Dowding, Conservation Planning Manager at email@example.com or (506 457-2398.
- Private landowners or land managers with trails that pass by a nesting peregrine falcon site can re-route their trail system to avoid disturbing the species.
- Learn how to identify a peregrine falcon by sight and sound and report any sightings to Dr. Maureen Toner, Biologist with the NB Department of Natural Resources – Habitat, Species at Risk and Protected Natural Areas Section at Maureen.TONER@gnb.ca or (506) 453-3826.
- Get involved in the Greenlaw Mountain Hawk Watch program (between late August and early November) to learn more about migratory raptors like peregrine falcon and help collect data on them to observe changes in their populations and migratory behaviour. For more information about this program, contact Todd Watts at firstname.lastname@example.org or (506) 529-4656.
- Species at Risk Public Registry
- Department of Natural Resources – Species at Risk
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- Parks Canada
The Nature Trust gratefully acknowledges the support of the following sponsors for its conservation work with peregrine falcons: Environment Canada through the Habitat Stewardship Program, New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund, and countless individuals.
-  White, Clayton M., Nancy J. Clum, Tom J. Cade and W. Grainger Hunt. 2002. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/660
-  Environment Canada. 2015. Management Plan for the Peregrine Falcon anatum/tundrius (Falco peregrinus anatum/tundrius) in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Management Plan Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa, pp. 5: https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=995#ot12
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid, pp. 11.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid, pp. 11-12.
-  Ibid, pp. 12.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid, pp. 13.