The Bitterroot Audubon Society will host a program on the successful reintroduction of peregrine falcons in the Bitterroot on Monday, Jan. 21.
The exciting success story will be told by Bitterroot Forest wildlife biologist Dave Lockman.
Thirty years ago, peregrine falcons had disappeared from the Bitterroot, the state of Montana and most of the United States. Their population numbers were down due to the use of the insecticide Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) that caused high rates of reproductive failure and thin egg shells.
In 1973, peregrine falcons were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
DDT was banned and breeding peregrines in captivity and releasing them into the wild has brought back their population.
The Audubon presentation will be on how the successful reintroduction happened in the Bitterroot Valley and Montana, the monitoring efforts that document the success, identifying peregrine falcons and suggestions on where and how to find them.
Lockman, coordinator of the local peregrine falcon monitoring efforts for 25-years called the reintroduction a positive story.
“It is about birds who were in danger 30-years ago and have made a dramatic comeback in the Bitterroot and other places,” Lockman said. “The reintroduction of peregrine falcons in the Bitterroot was championed by now-retired Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) wildlife biologist and long-time Bitterroot Audubon board member and secretary John Ormiston, in partnership with the Peregrine Fund, Patagonia, Inc. and the Liz Claibourne/Art Ortenberg Foundation.”
Lockman said the key to success was the release of captive-bred, juvenile peregrines from select cliff-top locations in the Bitterroot from 1989 through 1993.
Plus, there was a big reintroduction effort across the country.
“The Peregrine Fund organization bred captive falcons, raised the young for a while and then when they were old enough took them out to various areas that had been identified as good potential peregrine habitat,” Lockman said. “They had a process using a hack boxes with several juveniles that were too young to fly. There were people who fed the birds several times a day until they could fly and hunt on their own.”
Lockman said it was an intensive process and it was difficult to find people to feed the birds as the hack boxes were located on top of cliffs and not very accessible.
“It took a lot of commitment by a lot of people,” he said. “We did that in the Bitterroot for five years. The first three years were by Painted Rocks Lake and the next two years were Canyon Creek and Rock Creek.”
Lockman said Ormiston will join his presentation to add color commentary and humorous stories about the reintroduction effort.
“The last two years adult birds would come harass the juveniles so it was obvious they were starting to establish themselves in the Bitterroot,” Lockman said. “At that point we realized we didn’t have to release more. We are fully occupied in the Bitterroot now.”
Currently, BNF biologists, local birders and personnel from the Montana Peregrine Institute have documented occupied peregrine territories in at least 19 Bitterroot locations.
“Peregrines are migratory and not here in the winter,” Lockman said. “We don’t really know where they go. The counting we do has been with personnel from the BNF in conjunction with the Montana Peregrine Institute. They have been coordinating the monitoring for Montana for quite a few years now.”
In the Bitterroot, Forest Service personnel and volunteers do two periods of monitoring for occupancy and productivity.
Occupancy monitoring happens in the spring, usually the last part of April to determine which territories have birds. Most of the territories are stable from year to year.
“Once we found them one place we can usually find them on the same cliffs in following years,” Lockman said. “They are easier to find in the spring because they are going through courtship displays. They are pretty visible, quite vocal and easy to find if you know which cliffs to go to and look for them.”
The falcons are found high in the air or at the tops of the cliffs and spotting scopes or powerful binoculars are essential.
Productivity monitoring happens the first part of July and determines how many young the falcons have been able to fledge in each territory. This monitoring is more challenging because the birds are busy parenting.
“They don’t fly around in circles at the top of the cliffs like they do in spring,” Lockman said. “A lot of time you’re there for several hours hoping for an adult to come in with a prey item for the juveniles. This can be a frustrating endeavor but we have been successful at it.”
Lockman said the counts show the habitat on the west side of the Bitterroot Valley is fully occupied with peregrine falcons.
Lockman has worked at the Stevensville Ranger Station since 1993 and is a former Bitterroot Audubon Board member. He monitors peregrines, runs the BNF’s two bird banding stations near Lake Como, is the compiler for the Stevensville Christmas Bird Count and runs two breeding bird survey routes.
Kay Fulton, Bitterroot Audubon member, said the audience will enjoy the program Jan. 21.
“You will experience a sense of awe and pride when you hear this program about the very successful effort to save an entire bird species that had disappeared from our landscape,” she said. “You will enjoy meeting one of the people who actually made it happen and find out how they managed to get the equipment and themselves on top of the rocky cliffs. Of course, we have to recognize the birds as well since they're the ones who completed this story.”
Bitterroot Audubon Society’s program on saving the “World’s Fastest Animal” (according to NOVA) will start at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, at the North Valley Library in Stevensville, 208 Main Street. The public is invited. For further information call 406-360-8664.
“You will learn about the peregrines’ past, their present status and you might be motivated to help with monitoring their future progress as a citizen scientist,” Fulton said.