The fastest animal on earth making a comeback in New Jersey
Peregrine falcon populations declined drastically across much of the United States due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT before it was banned in 1972. In fact, the peregrine falcon populations were completely wiped out east of the Mississippi River by the 1950s and 1960s.
Once DDT was outlawed and the peregrine falcon gained endangered species protection, a population comeback was made possible.
David Wheeler, executive director of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, said falcons populations have grown in New Jersey ever since.
Wheeler's nonprofit has teamed up with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife to protect these falcons and aid in their recovery with the release of the 2018 New Jersey Peregrine Falcon Research and Management Program Report. He said 40 peregrine nesting pairs are in New Jersey today, the most the state has ever seen.
Wheeler said these falcons, which are the fastest animals on earth — sometimes diving at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour to catch prey — can be found on natural cliffs, skyscrapers and bridges around New Jersey. But what makes them so unique is that these falcons love to nest close to hundreds of people living in cities, not in the seclusion of a quiet wilderness.
Many of their nesting spots are in urban areas. The most well-known nest is on top of a skyscraper in downtown Jersey City. They also nest on many of the bridges going into New York City and Philadelphia. You'll see them nesting in downtown Elizabeth on the Union County courthouse.
While there are 40 nesting pairs in existence in New Jersey today, Wheeler said these birds still face threats. They rely on the protection of scientists and volunteers, building owners and the Department of Transportation — basically anyone who may be involved with those nest sites in highly populated areas.
Wheeler said the falcons also face natural threats. Young falcons face being eaten by great horned owls and other predators. Wheeler said scientists have found levels of lead in the falcons' blood, which could be a major health issue for them.
Much is being done to protect the peregrine falcons in New Jersey. Wheeler said scientists from both the CWF and Division of Fish and Wildlife have provided nest boxes for these falcons. They give them protection from the elements and shelter but also also allows falcons that are high up on the vista to see the birds they depend on as prey.
He said scientists want to make sure nesting areas on man-made bridges and skyscrapers are well-kept for the peregrine falcons. They've also built nesting platforms for them.
For example, Wheeler said, falcons nested under the bridge going into Long Beach Island. When the bridge underwent repairs, the falcons lost their nests. So scientists built nesting platforms for them just south of the bridge.
"We also band up to 60 falcon chicks each year. By band, we put on unobtrusive identification bands on their legs to check their health. That's because they are an at-risk endangered species," Wheeler said.
The public can also help protect these creatures. Wheeler said if a bird watcher or photographer happens to get an image or identify the number on the band of a peregrine falcon, they can reach out to the state or Conserve Wildlife. He said scientists can take that information and learn where the falcons are thriving, nesting and migrating.
You can also check out the free webcams located on the CWF website -- For Union County and Jersey City. You can get a chance to see a closeup view of the peregrine falcons laying their eggs, raising their young and learning to fly.
"It's pretty fascinating," Wheeler said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described great horned owls as horned-rimmed owls.
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