Bird Watching

Wildlife officials pleased to see
falcons thrive on bridge

Nesting project deemed a success
by bridge team members


(August 2013)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

There has been a lot of noise coming from the Milton-Madison Bridge lately, mostly in the form of loud tools and machinery to build the new superstructure or to remove the old one. But one distinct sound is the high-pitched call of the peregrine falcon.
These endangered birds of prey have lodged under the old bridge for nearly two decades, according to Kentucky state wildlife officials who monitor them. The nesting box placed under the bridge to encourage them to thrive is one of 12 such nests established and monitored in the state. All are located on the Ohio River, between Louisville and Ashland, according to Kate Heyden, avian biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Falcon Award

Photo courtesy of Ky. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

Milton-Madison Bridge
Team members received
the Peregrine Falcon Program Cooperator of the Year 2012
award from Kate Heyden
(center), avian biologist with
the Kentucky Department of
Fish & Wildlife in Frankfort.
The team members are (from
left) Dav Kessinger, Project
Manager for the Ky.
Transportation Cabinet;
Charlie Gannon, Walsh
Construction Co. Project
Manager; Larry “Red Dog”
Collins and Aaron Stover, both
with Michael Baker Jr. Inc.

This year, four chicks were hatched in April and all of them survived and fledged in June. The adult of this falcon family, in fact, is the oldest known to live in the state. He was among a number of falcons released by state wildlife officials at the Kentucky Utilities Ghent Power Station in 1997 as part of a program to replenish the falcon population.
“He is 16 years old and probably won’t live much longer,” said Heyden, 30, a Wisconsin native who has worked at the state wildlife agency in Frankfort for six years.
These falcons normally live between six and eight years but can live up to 20 years, she said. “So for him to live 16 years is quite remarkable. He is quite special.” In Kentucky, all the monitored falcons have chosen to nest at power plants or other tall structures on the river.
To help protect the falcon nest during the bridge replacement project, Heyden led an effort last year to place a new nesting box beneath the new superstructure and monitor it throughout the construction project. Bridge builder Walsh Construction Co., bridge design consulting company, Michael Baker Inc., and officials from both states’ transportation departments all participated. The goal was to get the falcons to accept the new nesting box for its young. As a result of the success of the effort, these Bridge Team members received the 2012 Peregrine Falcon Program Cooperator of the Year Award.


Photo courtesy of Charlie Gannon, Walsh Construction Co., Project Manager for the Milton-Madison Bridge

The male falcon guards the
chicks at the nesting box under
the Milton-Madison Bridge.

“We monitored the birds when they began removing the Madison side approach ramp to the old bridge,” Heyden said. “The male flew away, but the female didn’t leave the nest.”
Heyden said she plans to attend the second bridge blast of the next section of the old bridge, scheduled to take place in early August.
Heyden’s staff also monitors 15 American bald eagle nests in the state, including one in Carroll County, one in Gallatin County and two in Jefferson County, Ky. In fact, the population of eagles in Kentucky has doubled over the past five years, she said.
The peregrine falcon is a medium-sized hawk about the size of a crow. Once called “duck hawks,” adults have a distinctive dark hood and moustache, cream-colored throat, blue barring and yellow soft parts. Immatures are brown in color with buffy feather edging, heavily streaked under parts, bluish-gray to greenish-yellow soft parts, and a less distinct hood and moustache. Adult birds are 15 to 20 inches tall, with females about one-fourth to one-third larger than males. In flight, the wings and tail are long and pointed, and the head is relatively large.


Photo courtesy of Charlie Gannon, Project Manager for Walsh Construction Co.

The male falcon
is the oldest in the
state monitored by
the Kentucky
Department of Fish
& Wildlife. He was released in 1997 in
Ghent, Ky., and is now
16 years old.

The peregrine falcon is a widely distributed raptor, or bird of prey, found on every continent except Antarctica. The name peregrine comes from a Latin word for “wanderer” and refers to its wide-ranging movements. Peregrine populations exhibited large-scale declines throughout the world in the mid-1900s primarily because pesticide contamination (mainly DDT) affected normal nesting success. In 1970, peregrine falcons in North America were listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Due to a reduction in the use of DDT, reproductive success improved, and populations began increasing; however, the Eastern population had become extinct.
During the 1970s, programs were begun, including the one in Kentucky, to restore peregrine populations by releasing young captive-bred birds. These efforts have been successful, and peregrines are once again nesting in the East and Midwest. In 1989, a single pair of peregrines nested successfully in East Chicago, the first known nesting in Indiana since 1900. Prior to that, peregrine falcons were considered rare migrants in Indiana.
In fact, Indiana just reported in July that it experienced a “banner year” for banding peregrine falcon chicks at 15 nesting sites across the state. Most are located along rivers or large lakes. “As a species that is dependent on man-made structures in the lower Midwest, peregrine falcon numbers are at unprecedented levels due to the efforts of many agencies, organizations, companies and individuals,” said John Castrale, nongame bird biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “In return, these spectacular birds give wildlife watchers unique viewing opportunities as they hunt and raise their young in urban and industrial areas.”

In August 1999, the peregrine falcon was removed from the federal endangered species list. It continues to be protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and is still listed as endangered in Indiana and Kentucky.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAbout.bz.


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