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Peregrine Falcon Recovery in South dakota

PEREGRINE FALCON RECOVERY IN SOUTH DAKOTA

Peregrine FalconThe peregrine falcon is a state endangered species in South Dakota, with no current nesting locations known. South Dakota's endangered species law requires that the Departments of Agriculture and Game, Fish and Parks (SDGFP) work to restore species listed as threatened or endangered. SDGFP is leading a project to hopefully begin that restoration by bringing peregrine falcon chicks to Rapid City for reintroduction.

This is the most recent of several efforts to help restore the peregrine falcon in the state. During the late 1970s, wildlife biologists Jon Sharps and Dan O'Brien placed peregrine falcon chicks with prairie falcon parents, a technique called cross fostering. In 1997, 5 young peregrines were reintroduced from the Zip Feed Building in Sioux Falls by members of the Lakota Audubon Chapter. In 1999, Mark Paulson reintroduced 4 young peregrines from the roof of the Hotel Alex Johnson in Rapid City as part of an Eagle Scout project. Although a male from the Sioux Falls release contributed to peregrine falcon nesting in North Dakota, we know of no nesting attempts in South Dakota resulting from the previous restoration projects.

ABOUT THE BIRD

The peregrine falcon is widely distributed throughout the world. Its current North American range includes much of Alaska and northern Canada, parts of many western states, northern Mexico, and portions of many eastern seaboard states. The peregrine continues to recover in the Midwest, largely due to reintroduction and the banning of certain environmental contaminants in the U.S. in the early 1970s. The peregrine falcon was protected under the federal Endangered Species Act until 1999. It remains protected by state and federal laws, but limited, highly regulated use by falconers is now allowed.

This raptor's scientific name is Falco peregrinus. The species' part of its name, peregrinus, means "wanderer." Many North American peregrines migrate long distances, although some populations do not migrate. Birds historically often nested on cliffs, but many urban reintroduction projects have used tall structures instead, luring peregrines to many cities. The Peregrine Fund (http://www.peregrinefund.org) was instrumental in reintroduction efforts, particularly in the use of the "hacking" technique, long used by falconers. Hacking involves placing chicks at a site, either in an urban or natural setting and feeding the birds until they are ready to fledge. The presumption is that the birds will consider the hacking site as their natal area and potentially return to the site to nest. This encourages recovery in areas that lack a source of wild birds to colonize the area.

Peregrine FalconPeregrine falcons feed mainly on birds up to the size of small geese. Peregrines capture most prey in the air. They search for prey while perched or flying, followed by pursuit. "Stooping" is the most famous pursuit method. In a stoop, the falcon typically dives from above the potential prey, either flapping its wings in a shallow stoop or folding the wings against the body in a steep stoop. Shortly before reaching the prey, the falcon may pull out of the dive, shooting forward to grab or strike the prey, or the peregrine may stoop directly onto the prey, striking it to break a wing or kill it. Some researchers believe that this species' large feet and use of the stoop pursuit method allow it to exploit fairly large prey for its size. Peregrines readily prey on pigeons and doves, contributing to the success of urban releases, which often feature an ample supply of rock pigeons, the common pigeon found in cities and farmyards.

Peregrine pairs are monogamous. At natural cliff or ledge sites, the male may make several nest scrapes, one of which he and his mate will deepen for egg laying. Typical clutch size is 3-4 eggs. The female does most of the incubating, with help from the male, for the 33-35 day incubation period. Eggs may hatch all at once or asynchronously. The white, downy chicks grow quickly. By 40 days of age, they are almost fully feathered and capable of weak flight, nearly ready to fledge from the nest or hack site. Females may begin breeding at a younger age than males, with some females beginning to breed at 1 year. Based on reintroduction experiments, females may nest farther from their natal locations than males.

ABOUT THE PROJECTreintroduction logo

We are purchasing peregrine falcon chicks from captive breeders. Chicks are examined by a veterinarian to assure that they are healthy before being transferred to Rapid City. We have secured the necessary state and federal permits to bring birds into South Dakota and to mark them. In 2011, 20 chicks were placed atop the Assurant Building in Rapid City in groups of similar ages and sizes. Chicks were fed and monitored until ready to make their first solo flights. In 2012, the release site shifted to the Black Hills Corporation Building in Rapid City, just 2 blocks from the 2011 release site. Twenty birds were released in 2012. Seventeen fledged and left the area to migrate elsewhere for the winter.

Prior to release, birds are fitted with noninvasive identification markers. A U.S. Geological Survey band (similar to bands used to mark songbirds and waterfowl) is secured on one leg and a red, uniquely-coded band is placed on the other leg. Temporary, nontoxic paint allows identification of release groups in the reintroduction area. For instance, the first group of birds may receive a spot of temporary blue paint, and the second released group may receive a spot of orange paint. The temporary paint allows observers to at least identify the release group, if the color band cannot be read.

Raptor biologist Janie Fink of St. Maries, Idaho is on contract to manage the hack site and report results of the experiment. Janie brings recent experience with osprey reintroduction in southeastern South Dakota and peregrine release experience from the Midwest. Janie works with both trained staff and interested volunteers to help monitor the chicks' progress.

Of 20 chicks released in 2011, 17 were successfully fledged to the wild. An additional 20 chicks will be released in 2012. The project is scheduled for 3 years of peregrine falcon releases. The 2013 release site has yet to be determined.

Mortality for young birds is very high. We hope that some birds from the Rapid City releases will survive and return to nest in the area.

To report a color-banded Peregrine Falcon:

Contact SD Game, Fish & Parks (eileen.dowdstukel@state.sd.us). Please note which leg has a red color band and the code, if you are able to read it. South Dakota birds have red bands beginning with the letter "A" followed by 2 numbers. Reintroduced birds have a silver band on the other leg.

FUNDING for this project

State Wildlife Grants LogoReintroduction projects are logistically complicated and expensive. We have done extensive planning and research to assure that the project makes the best use of resources. This project is funded with State Wildlife Grants funding, an annual federal appropriation set aside for state wildlife agencies to restore rare species and conserve important habitats. State Wildlife Grants funding just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. This funding source has been a critical source of matching funds for state, tribal and territorial wildlife agencies. In South Dakota, the federal funds are matched with Wildlife Division funds, which are derived from hunting and fishing license revenues. Documented volunteer time can also provide the required match.

The State Wildlife Grants Program was recently threatened with elimination. A national effort to secure stable, long-term funding for fish and wildlife is called Teaming with Wildlife, which has supporters in every state. Teaming coalitions worked hard to save State Wildlife Grants funds, which makes projects like the peregrine falcon reintroduction possible. South Dakota's Teaming with Wildlife Coalition is the 10th largest in the country. To see South Dakota's Teaming coalition list and learn how your group or business can join, please visit: http://gfp.sd.gov/wildlife/funding/teaming.aspx