- Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
- Department of Fish and Game
- Division of Marine Fisheries
Media Contact for Baker-Polito Administration Conducts Peregrine Falcons Banding in Newburyport
Troy Wall, Communications Director
NEWBURYPORT — Today, state officials gathered to band three peregrine falcon chicks at the Gillis Bridge in the City of Newburyport, where a pair of peregrine falcons have been nesting in an artificial nesting box located on the bridge since 2018. Peregrine falcons are the fastest birds on Earth with dive speeds of over 240 miles per hour. Peregrines can thrive in urban environments where buildings and bridges provide habitat similar to the rocky cliffs they traditionally use as nesting sites. Beginning in the 1940s, peregrine falcon populations declined dramatically across the country due to the harmful effects of the pesticide DDT. By 1966, not a single nesting pair remained in the eastern U.S. After DDT was banned in 1972, the Department of Fish & Game’s (DFG) Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) began efforts to restore peregrine falcons to Massachusetts with the help of partners by releasing captive-bred chicks in suitable habitat. Eventually these efforts paid off and after several decades of population growth, peregrine falcons were removed from the federal endangered species list and their classification in Massachusetts was changed from Endangered to Special Concern.
“The peregrine falcon recovery is a great example of a success story where many partners worked together to ensure this incredible species is able to thrive once again,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card. “Massachusetts has always taken an active role in safeguarding our natural resources, wildlife, and critical habitats, and I want to thank all those who have worked so diligently in the peregrine falcon recovery process, ensuring future generations will see these amazing birds.”
“Through the help of so many, peregrine falcons can now be found all throughout the Commonwealth,” said Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Ron Amidon. “For several decades, peregrine falcon restoration has been underway in Massachusetts, and MassWildlife continues to track the health of the population by monitoring nest locations and by banding chicks as they hatch each year.”
MassWildlife biologists attach leg bands to chicks each year in late spring that stay with the birds as they grow into adults. Leg bands allow biologists to identify individual birds and track their movements, lifespan, and injury recovery. As of 2021, at least 42 nesting peregrine pairs were observed from Boston to the Berkshires. With the help of volunteers, MassWildlife and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) have been monitoring the Gillis Bridge since 2017, when a pair of falcons were first observed attempting to nest on the bridge’s pillars. In 2018, an artificial nest box was built by MassWildlife and installed by MassDOT to provide more protection from the elements and safety for the raptors to lay eggs and raise chicks. In 2020, a camera was installed to take photographs of the box every 15 minutes during daylight hours and can be viewed by the public online.
“Partnering with agencies, organizations, and individuals have greatly help with MassWildlife’s peregrine falcon restoration efforts by monitoring nests and their young,” said David Paulson, MassWildlife’s Senior Endangered Species Review Biologist. “Nest box sites like the one at Gillis Bridge not only help educate the community about species conservation, but also on how we all can make a difference.”
The nest box installation program also benefits transportation infrastructure, as it is well known by engineers, (and birders), that bridges are a favorite roosting habitat for pigeons. The birds’ guano accumulates on bridge surfaces, increasing oxidation rates of steel, which creates rust and results in increased maintenance needs. The presence of nesting peregrine falcons at bridges has had an impact, with state biologists and engineers observing there has been a reduction in pigeon populations at these structures. MassWildlife and MassDOT monitor seventeen falcon nesting box locations throughout the Commonwealth, including the municipalities of Boston, Chelsea, Fall River, Chicopee, South Hadley, Westfield, Haverhill, Springfield, Northampton, Wilbraham, Newburyport, and Quincy.
“Since 2008 MassDOT and MassWildlife have been in partnership to streamline project review and collaborate on the conservation of rare species,” said Jonathan Gulliver, MassDOT Highway Administrator. “This peregrine falcon nest box is a great example of the multiple benefits we strive to achieve through our partnership with MassWildlife: the falcon chicks are sheltered by the box, the falcons reduce the pigeon population, and the public can view these majestic birds using the box right from the Newburyport Harborwalk Trail under the Gillis Bridge.”
There are over 430 animals and plants protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. The public can support conservation efforts like this by donating to MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program and by reporting sightings of rare species. To learn more, please visit the division’s Support Endangered Species Conservation webpage.