Peregrine Falcon Restoration

A color photograph of a man and young woman putting a fledgling peregrine into a gray metal box.
Shenandoah's Peregrine Restoration Program aims to boost peregrine falcon numbers in the Central Appalachians where peregrine recovery has been slow.

NPS/Claire Comer


In 1980 peregrine falcons nested successfully in Virginia for the first time since DDT depleted their populations. Over the last four decades, breeding coastal Virginia populations of peregrine falcons have made a steady recovery while the mountain populations have lagged behind. The number of breeding pairs in the Central Appalachians over the last 18 years have only met one half of the recovery goal set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The successful breeding of peregrine falcons and rebounding populations in eastern coastal and urban areas prompted the removal of peregrines from the Endangered Species List in 1999. However, peregrines remain listed as Threatened in Virginia under Virginia’s Endangered Species Act.

The preferred method used for peregrine falcon re-introduction is called hacking. Hacking was first conducted at the Park from 1989-1993, during which time 37 of 42 peregrines successfully dispersed from the hacksite. The Peregrine Falcon Restoration Program resumed on an annual basis in 2000 using young falcons hatched at coastal Virginia sites, including birds from bridge nests with otherwise low fledging rates.

Despite the park’s nesting success of the mid 1990’s, peregrine populations in the mountains of Virginia continued to lag. So, in 2000, the park re-entered a peregrine restoration agreement with partners from the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William & Mary, the Virginia Department of Game & Fish, and the Virginia Department of Transportation. From 2000-2018 park staff and project partners successfully restored 151 peregrine falcons back into the park from four different hack sites.


How does hacking work?

The hacking process at Shenandoah consists of taking at-risk falcon chicks from nest sites in eastern Virginia, and bringing them to the Park where they are placed in protective wooden boxes, hack boxes, for approximately 10 days. The hackbox is placed on a high cliff ledge that mimics a natural peregrine falcon nest scrape. The boxes are constructed so that the young birds can view and acclimate to their environment as they mature, but are protected from predators such as raccoons. While they are in the boxes, park staff provide for their care and feeding, and monitor their condition, all the while minimizing contact with humans.

When the falcons are ready for flight, the boxes are opened and the falcons are allowed to leave. They will continue to be fed and monitored at the hacksite as they learn to hunt for themselves. The young fledglings will often mimic their brood mates as they refine their flight and hunting skills. Generally, the falcons remain in the local area for several weeks. By late-July they begin to take extended practice flights of over 200 miles. By late August, they leave the area by wandering into other states and eventually migrating south or east as fall approaches. It is hoped that the birds will imprint on Shenandoah's prominent cliffs and return as breeding adults in 2-3 years. Ultimately, Foster Falcon partners hope that this project will help to meet the USFWS recovery goal of 21 breeding pairs in the Central and Southern Appalachians.


What happens once the fledglings leave?

Research from the early 2000s (Center for Conservation Biology and FalconTrak Project Partners, Watts) shows that these reintroduced falcons disperse/migrate to a variety of areas. Some head towards coastal areas of the Mid-Atlantic and the Outer Banks. Some migrate to Florida, Cuba, the Bahamas, and further south. Others stay inland and winter along major river systems like the Ohio and the Susquehanna.

As a result of the Park’s ongoing restoration efforts, the Park has supported nesting pairs from 1994-1997, 2005-2007, and 2009-2014. During this time, these pairs have seen a 62% breeding success rate.

Shenandoah represents one of the best places in the mountains of Virginia to see these amazing birds of prey. Lucky visitors who experience this once endangered bird soaring high above the Blue Ridge Mountains are benefitting from regionally coordinated reintroduction efforts to support the conservation and long-term recovery of the peregrine falcon.


Source: Data Store Saved Search 3435. To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.

A falcon perched on a branch looking to the right.
Peregrine Falcon

Learn about these majestic birds of prey and why Shenandoah works to protect them.

Last updated: September 20, 2018

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