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Why Peregrine Falcons Are Moving To New York City

Over fifty years ago, you would not have seen a Peregrine Falcon from atop the Empire State Building, or actually anywhere else on the East Coast. They nearly became extinct in the 1960s because the pesticide DDT got into their food supply. The pesticide didn’t kill adult falcons, but it concentrated in their tissues and interfered with females’ ability to produce strong eggshells.

In 1970, a team of scientists and falconers that became known as the Peregrine Fund came together at Cornell University in upstate New York to bring back the birds. Under the guidance of ornithologist Tom Cade, they planned to breed the birds in captivity and then release them into the wild after DDT had been banned, which happened in 1972. Because so few of the native falcons were left in the wild around the continental United States, they were forced to gather Peregrine Falcons from around the globe.

Falcon

Today the Peregrine Falcons have returned. Not only to North America, but—unexpectedly—to NYC and many of the other cityscapes of the world. The city home for the falcons is primary due to humans destroying bird habitat, but for the falcons human city habitats have now inadvertently given them a nice home.

 Peregrine Falcons are comfortable making the Big City their home

Falcon flying near New York City

There are many reasons they have chosen the big city. For starters, there is plenty of food for the falcon in the City. A major food source for falcons is birds and the City has a plentiful bird population including pigeons, starlings, blackbirds, blue jays, flickers and many other birds that live in the city area or fly through during the migratory season. It has been reported that the City falcons have eaten over 75 species of avian prey over the past 15 years of data collection. Information collected on the falcons diet is also being used to determine all of the potential types of environmental contamination that are found in the food chain of the birds.

Falcon atop a large bridge

Another important reason falcons are attracted to NYC is because the City reminds them of their natural habitat. Falcons historically have lived on high cliffs over spacious areas that are ideal for hunting. A falcon will sit extremely still and watch its prey until it flies into an open area such as those over a river or the tree lines in a park.They can see at least one mile and keep track of three moving objects at one time.The falcon will dive down onto its prey at speeds ranging from 99 to 273 miles per hour (according to Tom Cade's summary of studies in his book "The Falcons of the World"). City structures such as a bridge or skyscraper provides the falcon with a great deal of open air space and a great perch for scanning the hunting area.

Privacy is also a very important reason falcons have taken to the City. Falcons and New Yorkers actually respect each others' privacy. This type of cooperation from New Yorkers is essential to the falcon's comeback and existence in NYC. As long as people don’t try to feed the falcons or disturb their nesting and feeding areas, the falcons are very comfortable with the surroundings. And, if you have a little patience and a pair of powerful binoculars, you can enjoy watching the beauty of these amazing birds in flight.

Falcon as seen through HD binoculars
Where to see the Peregrine falcons in the NYC area.

There are many different areas around the City where you may spot the Peregrine Falcons, including tall buildings and bridges. It’s reported that nesting boxes exist on most Hudson River bridges from Albany to New York City. The Verrazano and the Throgs Neck Bridge were actually the first two NYC nesting places for Peregrines, which were listed as endangered in the 1980s. Falcons can also be found nesting on Adirondack cliffs. 

Between March and July, check out the live falcon web cams at selected locations across the state.

References: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-worlds-fastest-animal-takes-new-york-12317871/

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/news/falcon.shtml

Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Photo: Patrick Cashin

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