Hacking Young Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine hack box at New River Gorge National River (photo in public domain from NPS, annotated by Kate St. John)
Peregrine hack box at New River Gorge National River (photo in public domain from NPS, annotated by Kate St. John)

Many of you have asked about the status of Dori and Louie’s peregrine chicks, taken from their Downtown Pittsburgh nest on 8 May 2018.  I have no news of the chicks, but I do know the PA Game Commission planned to hack them at an undisclosed location.  Based on the chicks’ age, I think this would have happened in early June.

What is peregrine hacking?

Hacking is a falconry term for the process of introducing captive chicks without parents to independent free flight. The Peregrine Recovery Program used this method to restore peregrines to the wild after they went extinct east of the Mississippi. Every wild peregrine in the eastern U.S. is descended from one or more hacked birds.

The Center for Conservation Biology in Williamsburg, Virginia has four decades of experience in hacking peregrines.  Please read their excellent description of hacking, complete with photos from their program.

This brief description, partly drawn from ccbbirds.org, includes National Park Service photos from the Shenandoahs and New River Gorge.

A hack box, above, is prepared and placed on the cliff.  It has:

  • Grill-work on the cliff side so the chicks can see the sky and valley,
  • A door that opens on a safe ledge for wing exercising,
  • A chute for delivering food to the chicks.

Young peregrines are placed in the box after banding and before they are old enough to fly.  The box is kept closed at first for the chicks’ protection from great horned owls and other predators.

Peregrine chick being placed in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology)
Peregrine chick being placed in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)
Peregrine chicks in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)
Peregrine chicks in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)

 

The chicks are fed using the chute. (They don’t see humans feeding them.)

Using the chute to feed the chicks (photo from National Park Service, New River Gorge)
Using the chute to feed the chicks (photo from National Park Service, New River Gorge)

When they are old enough to ledge walk, the door is left open so they can walk out and exercise their wings.  They are still fed using the chute.

Eventually the chicks fly and learn to hunt. Food is delivered to the hack box until they are self sufficient.

Young peregrines flying before they disperse from the hack site (photo from National Park Service)
Young peregrines flying before they disperse from the hack site (photo from National Park Service)

When the fledglings are self sufficient they fly away (disperse).

We know they disperse far.  Three hacked birds from the Center for Conservation Biology program have come to Pittsburgh to nest.

 

(photos by the National Park Service from the New River Gorge National River hacking program and via the Center for Conservation Biology website)

 

13 thoughts on “Hacking Young Peregrine Falcons

  1. I haven’t been keeping up this year. Why were the chicks removed from the nest? Did something happen to Louie and Dorrie?
    Thank you.

  2. Thank you for that very informative article on Peregrine hacking! It really relieved my mind about the fate of the downtown Pgh chicks that were removed. It appears to be a brilliant method.

    1. I agree! It is such a relief to see how they do it! It certainly looks like a well designed, executed and vetted process. Thanks, Kate!

      In light of the unpopular and emotional removal, I can understand the game commission wanting to undergo the rehab and hacking process under a cone of silence, but, since the chicks should have been hacked by now, I hope they will share the results with us.

  3. Thanks so much for this very interesting article. I was amazed to learn that every Peregrine in the eastern U.S. is descended from a hacked bird! Thanks for all the hard work over time that restored the Peregrine to the wild. It is great to see such dedicated and knowledgeable people helping these beautiful birds to survive. I wish them all great success.

    1. Interesting that even when they are hacked at a natural cliff they still prefer bridges and buildings!

  4. This is just fascinating. Thank you so much, for this, and the may nuggets of information you provide. You really enrich my life.

  5. Hi Kate,
    There was a story on the 11:00 news last night on KDKA about the downtown peregrine chicks. They said that 2 of the chicks were moved to a foster nest somewhere on a cliff (I can’t remember where they said that it was) and that the other 2 chicks died from an infection. I was shocked by this and have been looking online to see if I could find any other information and can’t seem to find that story anywhere.

    I was wondering if you had heard about this and if there was any other information on them at all. It’s really very upsetting to hear this outcome.

    Thank you.

  6. I just found an article in the Post Gazette online regarding moving the 2 chicks to the cliffside nest which was published 2 hours ago.

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