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Peregrine Falcon Nesting
Back on Track in Kentucky

From KY Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources

During the era of human habitation in Kentucky when the only smoke emitted along the banks of the Ohio River came from the cooking fires of the Shawnee, peregrine falcons nested along its banks. During the 20th century, habitat destruction and the widespread use of pesticides, mainly DDT, caused peregrine falcon numbers to plummet. By the late 1940s, Kentucky lost the last nesting peregrine falcons. By the 1970s, peregrine falcons no longer nested in the eastern United States.

In 2003, peregrine falcons again nest along the Ohio River, but they shun the trees and cliffs they once used as natural nesting sites and in their place use the human built bridges and power plants. Power plants and bridges resemble the cliff site habitat peregrines once used to raise their young.

We have two nesting pairs in Trimble County, said Shawchyi Vorisek, raptor research biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

One is at the LG&E plant in Bedford. The other pair lives on the Hwy. 421 bridge between Milton, Kentucky and Madison, Indiana. The nest is in an area where we can’t observe them.

Vorisek said the pair of young peregrine falcons at the LG&E plant fledged the first week of June.

This year the female laid three eggs, but one egg never hatched, she said. The other two eggs hatched and so far they’ve been successful. This is the most successful she’s been. What is interesting is the female that was around before was displaced by this female. We were a little upset because this female is not as successful at reproducing as the female she displaced, but the news this year is good nonetheless.

Vorisek said there is a nesting pair at the Kentucky Utilities (KU) power plant at Ghent, Kentucky. KU plants have served as hacking sites for reintroducing peregrines back to the wild.

This nesting pair had four young this year, she said. All four fledged, but two died soon after. One flew into lattice-type structures and the other flew into a building. The other two relocated.

Mortality is high on young peregrines. The biggest natural predator on young peregrine falcons is the great horned owl, but most deaths are associated with accidents, disease or bad weather. Only about 30 percent of young peregrines survive to adulthood.

There are other pairs of nesting peregrine falcons in Kentucky, according to Vorisek.

We’ve got a nesting pair in Louisville between the Big Four and the JFK bridge, she said. We also have a pair in Greenup County at the Ironton Bridge between Russell, Kentucky and Ironton, Ohio.

After fledging, peregrines disperse. We’ve had birds fledge that end up in Indiana or Illinois, Vorisek said. One of our birds came from Canada.

Peregrine falcons feed mainly on other birds and take them in mid-air. They are capable of attaining speeds of 200 miles per hour in a vertical dive making them the fastest animal on Earth.

Kentuckians will have a much better chance in the future to witness the awe-inspiring dive of a peregrine falcon, now that nesting activity once again seems to be back on track in the Commonwealth.


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