We are very excited to learn that local birders and Georgia DNR biologists recently spotted peregrine falcons in the Golden Isles of Georgia! Thanks to sustained periods of gale force winds that blew the birds onshore, birders recently observed as many as 160 falcons in a single day earlier this month. The news was published by The Brunswick News this morning, 16 October 2017.
Although peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) were once common in the Southeast, their numbers plummeted following widespread use of DDT to control mosquitoes. DDT is a pesticide that was outlawed in the United States in 1972 because of the harm is causes to non-target organisms. The chemical acts at relatively low concentrations to block calcium metabolism in animals. This characteristic makes it a fantastic pesticide but also causes unintended consequences in animals further up the food chain. Primary among these effects is its action in reproducing birds, which it prevents from producing eggs with strong, healthy shells. Many predatory birds, including peregrine falcons, suffered extreme population decline in areas where DDT was commonly applied. You can read more about DDT on the EPA’s web page.
These days, it’s unusual to see peregrine falcons in the Golden Isles. The birds are rare in Georgia, with only a few nesting pairs in Atlanta and Tallulah Gorge. The birds in Atlanta nest on high-rise office buildings and prey on birds like pigeons. It may seem odd that the birds are most commonly observed in a large population center like Atlanta, but the buildings there resemble the cliffs that occur in more natural areas like Tallulah Gorge, whence the birds returned in 2015 after an 80-year hiatus.