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Contact: Matt Varner, 304 465-6542
Park “Of the 400 hours spent observing the young peregrine falcons in 2006, volunteers accounted for 260 of those hours,” announced National Park Service (NPS) Wildlife Biologist, Matt Varner. Last May, Varner initiated a multi-year restoration program for the peregrine falcon, and 15 of the young birds were released into the New River Gorge. For the duration of the project, a group of extremely dedicated volunteers helped maintain a daily feeding and observation schedule.
Varner recognized the volunteers on April 21st, and presented them with certificates, tee-shirts and photos of the peregrine falcons that were released in 2006. Attendees at the recognition program included: Geoff ‘Tiny’ Elliott, Allen and Mindy Waldron, Greg Phillips, Heather Musante, Gene Kistler, Ron and Wendy Perrone, and John Perez.
“The NPS is very grateful to these people; they helped us achieve a 94% success rate, which is well above the 50 -83% average success rates seen in other falcon restoration programs underway since the late 1970s. ‘Success’ is defined by observing a bird at least 14 days after its release – indicating that it has survived the period when it is most vulnerable to predation from owls and hawks,” explained Varner. “Fourteen of the 15 released falcons were observed for at least 24 days and one falcon remained in proximity to the release site for over 60 days. This extended duration of stay within the area around the release site should give the falcons a better chance of surviving the first year, which is the period when 50-75% will die from predation, vehicle collision, etc.”
Over 30 people volunteered on the project in 2006, including local rock climbers who helped place the box where the young birds were kept and fed until they were ready to fly. Members of the New River Alliance of Climbers, including Heather Musante, Gene Kistler, and Kenny Parker assisted with multiple aspects of the project ranging from site selection to observation of the falcons prior to and following release. Ron and Wendy Perrone from the Three Rivers Avian Center in Summers County helped evaluate and monitor the birds’ health and provided supplies to treat for specific conditions, like dehydration. Local bird enthusiasts were a strong asset to the project, Geoff ‘Tiny’ Elliott contributed nearly 90 hours observing and documenting the development and activities of the released falcons.
Varner also noted that there was excellent interagency cooperation with the WV Division of Natural Resources (DNR), and DNR employees Craig Stihler, Donna Mitchell, Bill Roody, Rob Tallman, Jack Wallace and Rick Doyle contributed dozens of observation hours.
If you observe peregrine falcons near New River Gorge, have specific questions, or would like to participate as a volunteer in the monitoring program, please call NPS Wildlife Biologist Matt Varner at 304-465-6542.