All eyes were trained on the eastern face of Champlain Mountain as a young peregrine falcon lifted off from its hidden perch along the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park.
Park rangers adjusted the telescopes, focusing on the brown-backed juvenile with a streaked breast that touched down at the base of a pitch pine.
“The square, the pink column, the band of trees to the right…” Park Ranger Mickey Shortt related as more than a dozen people lined up to try and glimpse the raptor during Acadia’s three-hour Peregrine Watch at the Precipice trailhead.
Originally from Stuttgart, Germany, Uta Runge and her family were among many visitors who got to see the peregrine falcon in flight. They also examined a bird skull and learned how falcons’ ingestion of the insecticide DDT led to the species’ reproductive failure and threatened status in the 1950s.
“It’s amazing to see their nests here,” Runge said.
By the mid-1960s, peregrine falcons had completely vanished in the Eastern United States. The last known nesting pair was reported in 1956.
In a joint effort, Acadia partnered with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and other entities to restore the peregrine population. To reintroduce the species, captive-reared peregrine chicks were released into the wild starting in 1984. In the following years, adult peregrines began returning to Acadia, but the first chicks to naturally hatch and nest here wasn’t until 1991.
In subsequent years, the Eastern Peregrine Falcon Reintroduction Program far surpassed the initial goal of establishing 170 pairs and the bird of prey was removed from the Endangered Species List. To date, over 85 chicks have been born and reared in Acadia.
“We went from loss to restoration with a lot of work and intention,” Shortt said.
Peregrine falcons are formidable predators, dive-bombing prey while flying at over 100 miles per hour. Only about the size of a crow, they typically feed on smaller birds at dawn and dusk on shores, marshes and in valleys.
In spring, peregrines court through an acrobatic dance high in the sky. Nesting occurs during this same period with peregrine chicks visible as “tiny white snowballs” at the edge of the nest cliff.
In July and August, the juveniles practice flying in the nesting area or farther afield. Come fall, some of the raptors migrate south while others may overwinter.
During the nesting period, peregrines are especially vulnerable to human presence. If disturbed, the adult falcons are at risk of abandoning the nest so visitors are asked to observe and respect related area and trail closures.
“The success of peregrine falcon nesting in Acadia National Park is one of our great conservation stories thanks in large part to the efforts of our wildlife biologist, Bruce Connery,” said Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider. “This program is an example of how we can protect important resources while allowing visitors reasonable access to enjoy the park.”
For more details, call Acadia National Park at 288-3333 and visit https://www.nps.gov/articles/peregrine-falcons-in-acadia.htm and https://www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/things2do.htm.