UPDATE 8/6/15: Precipice, Jordan Cliffs and Valley Cove Trails reopened.
UPDATE 7/31/15: Statistics provided by the park state that in 2014, there were 9 peregrine falcon chicks hatched at Acadia including 1 chick at Jordan Cliffs, 2 at Ironbound Island, 4 at the Precipice and 2 at Valley Cove.
A biologist at Acadia National Park said he is pleased that 7 peregrine falcon chicks fledged at the park this year and that popular hiking trails in the nesting areas should reopen around the first week of August.
Bruce Connery, wildlife biologist at Acadia, said the Precipice on the east face of Champlain Mountain is now home to three fledged peregrine falcon chicks; the Jordan Cliffs, two; and Valley Cove cliffs above Somes Sound, also two.
The Precipice Trail, the Jordan Cliffs Trail, part of the Orange & Black Path and the Valley Cove Trail, which were closed early this spring to protect the peregrine falcon chicks, should all open in early August as is usual each year following the falcon nesting season, he said.
The park has not officially announced the date for reopening the trails and still needs to check some trail sections for safety reasons for hikers, he said.
“We are still watching chicks,” he added. “They are getting to be pretty good fliers but they still have a ways to go. They still all come back to the cliff every night. They are dependent on it. They seem to still be pretty much in a group dynamic. They go off for a little bit, but an hour later they will be back perched within 20 to 50 feet from each other. That cliff is still important to them.”
He said the number of fledged chicks is around average for the park.
“It is right in the middle,” he said. “It’s pretty much what we should hope for and expect.”
Unlike last year, Connery said, no peregrine falcon chicks were likely born this year on Ironbound Island, which is located in the park’s legislative area and is protected with a park conservation easement.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “Some people said they saw them but we never saw them. We were only out four times. If you pick the wrong day, you could be off. I don’t know. It seems odd we would not have seen them if they had chicks but it is possible.”
Also, there were no peregrine falcon chicks on the Beech Cliffs above Echo Lake, a fifth location where falcons have nested in the past.
According to Erickson Smith, biological science technician at the park, there were 9 peregrine falcon chicks hatched at Acadia in 2014 including 1 chick at Jordan Cliffs, 2 at Ironbound Island, 4 at the Precipice and 2 at Valley Cove.
Peregrine falcon chicks an Acadia environmental success story
Peregrine falcons have not come back as strongly as bald eagles, but they are holding their own, he said.
The peregrine falcon was listed as a federal endangered species in the early 1970s, but was removed from that list in 1999. The first successful nest in 35 years in Acadia occurred in 1991.
The resident breeding population of peregrines remains “endangered” under Maine’s Endangered Species Act.
Connery said he also saw peregrine falcons through the winter in Acadia this year. That indicates some birds, instead of migrating south, are staying year-round, probably feeding on other birds that frequent bird feeders in the winter, he said.
Connery said he also is excited because he spotted a banded adult peregrine falcon at the Precipice this year. That is significant because it could mean the bird recolonized the area where it was hatched, he said.
Connery said at least one of the adults at the Precipice has a green band, showing that it was banded in Maine, likely in Acadia where it was hatched. He said the number on the band was not seen, but it was “the first year we definitely identified a band .. It is pretty exciting.”
Peregrine falcons generally migrate south for the winter to Costa Rica, Florida or Jamaica, for example, but Connery said at least a couple of peregrine falcons appeared to remain in Acadia through the winter. He said falcons were seen at the Precipice through the winter and at Valley Cove in mid-February.
“It almost suggests they are resident birds, that they are staying in the area to defend that territory,” he said.
“It is a feel good story. It is positive, positive, positive.” – Bruce Connery, Acadia National Park biologist
The park’s program to protect peregrine falcon chicks has also proven to be a great opportunity to educate people about the importance and effectiveness of the endangered species act, he said.
Each year, between 14,000 and 24,000 people have visited the Precipice Trail parking area to attend “peregrine watch,” a park program for learning about the falcons, he said. A park ranger and a volunteer allow people to look through viewing scopes at the falcon nests off Champlain Mountain. Connery said the attendance is strong considering the program is only open 9 am to noon on certain days during the nesting season.
“It is a feel good story. It is positive, positive, positive.”