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Peregrine Falcon - Albany-Rensselaer, NY

Peregrine Falcons Nesting in the State Capital

Albany's Peregrines

A peregrine falcon flying over the Hudson River
Peregrine Falcon flying over the Hudson River

Albany, the state's capital, is fortunate to have a pair of endangered peregrine falcons nesting on the Dunn Memorial Bridge, which spans the Hudson River between the Cities of Albany and Rensselaer, NY. Since 1998, 29 young peregrine falcons have been raised on the bridge.

Peregrine Decline and Recovery

Peregrines are crow-sized birds, brown when young and slate gray as adults, with a distinctive single dark cheek patch. As recently as 50 years ago, peregrine falcons occupied as many as 40 eyries in the state. They were typically on high, inaccessible cliffs or on tall buildings in New York City. In the Capital Region, peregrines were reported using the Helderbergs through at least the 1930s. However, widespread use of the pesticide DDT caused severe reproductive problems. This resulted in a population crash in New York and throughout the Northeast. By the early 1960s, peregrines had disappeared from the state as nesting birds.

Hopes that peregrines could be reestablished in the Northeast were raised in the 1970s when The Peregrine Fund (leaves DEC website) developed an intensive captive-breeding program and successfully bred large numbers of falcons. Using a technique called "hacking," staff from the Peregrine Fund, DEC, and volunteers released captive-raised birds to the wild. From 1974 through 1988, nearly 160 peregrines were released at sites from New York City north to the Adirondacks.

Peregrines in the Capital Region

A total of 15 peregrines were "hacked" from 1985 to 1987 at the Agency Building 2 of the Empire State Plaza. Released birds soon began breeding on their own, producing a new generation of wild-raised peregrines. The peregrine falcon returned to New York State as a breeding bird in 1983 when two nests were discovered on New York City bridges. In 1985, nesting pairs returned to two Adirondack cliffs. Each year since 2000, there have been more than 40 breeding pairs of peregrine falcons in New York State.

A nest box placed by wildlife biologists on the Alfred E. Smith Building in Albany in 1994 did not attract a nesting pair, However, birds began nesting at a nest box placed on the Dunn Memorial Bridge in 2000. They have continued nesting their every year since.

Dunn Memorial Bridge

First Nesting Activity

Department of Transportation (DOT) workers first noticed peregrine falcons in the vicinity of the Dunn Memorial Bridge in 1998. Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) biologists were advised, and asked to verify the tentative identification. After several days of observation, DEC staff confirmed that a pair had set up a territory at the bridge.

Nesting Update

A web camera and transmitter equipment was installed on the bridge by a contractor during February-March, 2000. However, the web camera is no longer in operation. Furthermore, nestlings are no longer being banded at this site or other sites in the region. However, peregrine falcons continue to use the bridge for nesting and each bridge is monitored annually for breeding and breeding success.

The breeding summary for 2010-2017 is as follows:

Year Number
Fledged
2010 1
2011 5
2012 5
2013 3
2014 3
2015 3
2016 1
2017 2

Watchable Wildlife - Where to View Nesting Peregrine Falcons

Visit the Rensselaer Riverfront Park on Broadway in the City of Rensselaer. From this vantage point you can watch the adults as they hunt for prey and defend their nesting territory. Once prey is caught it is either consumed immediately by the adults, brought back to the nest box to feed young, or cached (stored) for later consumption. You may also observe the young falcons once they venture out of the nest box onto the top of the concrete bridge pier. They feed, loaf, and exercise their wing muscles in preparation for the first flight.

A kiosk at the park contains information about the falcons, as well as other Watchable Wildlife opportunities in the region. Bring along a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope for optimal viewing opportunities.

Directions to the Rensselaer Riverfront Park: The entrance to the park is on Fifth Avenue, a very short street that takes you into the Park from Broadway in Rensselaer. Fifth Avenue is immediately opposite a Dunkin Donuts shop, and is several hundred feet north of the on ramp to head West on Routes 9 & 20. There is a sign for the Park on Broadway.