A ranger points out where endangered peregrine falcons are nesting along cliffs on the Precipice on Champlain Mountain. PHOTO BY STEPHANIE CALAS

Falcons raise three on Precipice

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — A pair of endangered peregrine falcons nesting on cliffs along the Precipice Trail have successfully raised three chicks to adulthood.

Since 1991, a pair of peregrine falcons has returned to the eastern face of Champlain Mountain, where the notoriously steep and jagged cliffs offer an ideal nesting ground. This pair, along with the other falcons that have returned to Mount Desert Island over the past 25 years, have helped pull the species out of near-extinction.

In all this year, seven birds have successfully fledged, or grown large enough to leave the nest, at various nesting sites in the park.

Other sites include along the Valley Cove Trail and the Jordan Cliffs Trail. Around mid-March each year, the National Park Service ensures the safety of birds and hikers alike by closing off the aforementioned trails until the adult birds have taken flight and left the young to fend for themselves. According to Ranger Susan Schmidt, the parents may not leave until mid-August. Last year, the Precipice reopened the first week of August.

“The chicks have already fledged,” Schmidt says. “Fledging is when they step out of the nest. From what we’ve seen through our scopes and cameras, there are currently three chicks at the Precipice Trail: one large one and two significantly smaller ones. The parents won’t leave until the chicks are mature enough to protect themselves and hunt on their own.”

The parents remain at the nesting site, where they continue to hunt and provide for the chicks. The nest is called a “scrape” due to the falcons’ preference for scraping together loose material on a rock ledge instead of building a nest for the eggs from sticks and vegetation in a tree.

Four days a week throughout the summer, park rangers have set up scopes at the base of the Precipice Trail by the parking lot. Schmidt explained that on these days, the rangers are able to guide visitors’ eyes to the scrape and the birds and help educate them about the birds and their nesting habits.

Acadia National Park’s 2015 raptor intern Thomas Guillebeau explained that while some potential Precipice hikers are irritated about the closure, the park’s efforts to educate the public about the birds have been helpful in cutting back on this frustration.

“We try to emphasize that peregrines are very aggressive birds. They are very protective of their offspring. Additionally, if people were to be going up and down the trail every day, there would be a good chance of the parents getting too stressed and just leaving the scrape,” Guillebeau stated. “However, there have been no fatalities on the trail caused by the birds. That is why we close the trail while they nest: to protect the birds and humans.”

The trail, which climbs a 700-foot cliff, features ledges just a foot wide and iron bars for hand holds in steep sections.

“Imagine you’re climbing up a ladder on the Precipice, and out of nowhere, a football-sized bird flying at approximately 100 mph shoots past you, screeching,” he explained. “You’d be pretty startled and at risk of falling.”

Until the trail is reopened, rangers hope to continue educating visitors about the importance of protecting the peregrine falcons.

— Videos by Acadia National Park

Stephanie Calas

Stephanie Calas

Stephanie Calas

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