Fremont Bridge Nests
Fremont Bridge Peregrines in 2004: A Decade of Successful Nesting
In June of 1994, the Wildlife Care center received a call from alocal veterinary clinic; a young Peregrine Falcon had just slammed intothe window of a Rolls Royce dealership on Burnside and was lying on thesidewalk coughing up blood. The odds that it was really a peregrineseemed improbable. In 1994 there were only 26 known Peregrine Falconnest sites in the entire State of Oregon and only one nest in thePortland Metropolitan area.
Earlier that spring a pair ofunbanded peregrines had taken up residence on a pigeon dung-coveredsteel platform beneath the lower deck of the Fremont Bridge.Biologists, who had been tracking the slow recovery of the AmericanPeregrine Falcon ( Falco peregrinus anatum ) since the listing ofthe peregrine under the Federal Endangered Species Act and the banningof the pesticide DDT in 1972, were elated when the pair produced asingle female chick. Portland's Fremont Bridge was officiallydesignated "Oregon Aerie (nest) 26" signifying that it was the 26thperegrine nest site to be established in Oregon since the recovery hadbegun. While still only a handful, it was a far sight better than in1970 when nesting peregrines were nearly extirpated from the entirecontinental United States and eliminated from the Oregon landscapealtogether.
Shortly after the first report, a second phone callcame in. Rick Yazzalino, a keeper at the Oregon Zoo, was franticallycalling to report the same injured peregrine. "Calm down Rick" I toldhim, "Odds are it isn't a peregrine." "Oh it's a Peregrine Falcon allright," he shrieked back at me, "I know because she is bleeding allover my back seat and she is about to die!" The falcon spent nearly amonth at the Audubon Wildlife Care Center recovering from her injuriesbefore she was well enough for us to take her back down to the bridgefor release to complete her development under the tutelage of hernatural parents.
Although peregrines typically nest on cliffledges, there are records dating back to the Middle Ages of peregrinesnesting on man-made structures. Although the urban landscape presentsmyriad hazards for wildlife, bridges tend to be particularly hazardousnest sites for peregrines. The dynamics of many bridges are such thatperegrines tend to fledge prematurely and plummet to the water orroadways below. Those that survive the initial fall must often spendseveral days hopping about on the ground before they attain the abilityto fly.
After the travails of 1994, serious consideration wasgiven to removing future eggs or chicks from the Fremont Bridge nestsite and fostering them into wild land cliff nest sites where theywould likely face fewer hazards. The opportunity to allow urbanites toexperience firsthand the presence of these magnificent birds flyingoverhead and our ability to provide for them on the urban landscape waspitted against the importance of doing everything possible to maximizetheir likelihood of success. In the end, it was a pragmatic recognitionthat peregrines would inevitably continue to attempt to nest upon oururban landscape that won the day. The recovery would best be aided bydeveloping strategies to allow them to successfully nest upon the urbanlandscape rather than transporting them elsewhere.
In 1995, theOregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Audubon Portlandcollaborated to develop the "Peregrine Watch Program," an intensiveeffort to raise Portlanders' awareness and appreciation of the fiercepredator slicing though the clouds overhead. Jeep Pagel, PeregrineSpecialist for the US Forest Service, worked with us to establish themonitoring protocols. The Oregon Department of Transportation adoptedinnovative management strategies and funded research into the nestingbehavior of bridge dwelling falcons. A huge cadre of volunteers donatedtheir time to help educate visitors, monitor the falcons and providedawn to dark protection for young falcons during the hazardous fledgingprocess.
The effort has more than paid off. During the pastdecade the Fremont Bridge peregrines have fledged thirty-threeyoungsters. Of those, all but three have fledged prematurely andbenefited from the mobile Peregrine Falcon restriction zones quicklyestablished by vigilant volunteers. Fifteen youngsters have requiredsome form of major intervention including being pulled from in front ofoncoming cars and trains and being hauled from the river by kayak.
Oneyoungster was rescued from the bottom of a six foot deep hole used bythe homeless community as a latrine and another was recovered afterbeing harassed by an intoxicated person. Juvenile falcons have beenstruck by cars, run into windows and even been hit by a bicyclerequiring rehabilitation ranging from one day to more than a year. Theawareness and concern of the local human community has beeninstrumental in the success of this site as they have alerted us topotential problems, often been the first to sight ground-bound falconsand tolerated periodic area restrictions while nearby falcons learnedto fly. More than once, Ross Island Sand and Gravel on the east side ofthe bridge has turned off a gravel loader as a young peregrineplummeted into harms way. Despite our best efforts, there have alsobeen eleven fledgling mortalities during the past decade.
TodayFremont Bridge is recognized as the second most productive peregrinenest site in the State of Oregon. At least four of the young whofledged off the Fremont are known to have established nest sites oftheir own, and those nest sites have produced at least an additional 20youngsters. Our prediction back in 1995 that peregrines would continueto attempt to occupy other bridges in the Portland area was accurateand today five of the 111 known nest sites (greater than 4%) in theState of Oregon occur in the Portland Metro Area.
Challengesstill remain. Peregrines were delisted Federally in 1999, but remainlisted as endangered in the State of Oregon. Despite a lack of qualitydata regarding current peregrine population trends, the US Fish andWildlife Service decided in 2004 to allow falconers to remove up tofive percent of the annual western Peregrine Falcon nestingproductivity from the wild for the purpose of being held in captivityfor falconry. Oregon's State Endangered Species Act will protect themin this state but we could soon be seeing falcons being removed fromthe wild just across our borders. This decision is currently beingopposed in court by Audubon Society of Portland and other conservationgroups. Additional causes for concern include the potential populationimpacts of West Nile virus, the recent discovery that widely used flameretardant chemicals are showing up in high quantities in PeregrineFalcons, and the as of yet unexplained peregrine population declines inNorthern Scotland. We must remain vigilant.
A decade after theyfledged their first youngster, the same pair of falcons still nestshigh above the Willamette River on the Fremont Bridge. In late June ofthis year they successfully fledged another three youngsters. In 1995,Jeep Pagel climbed into the nest and replaced the layers of pigeon poopwith a more typical peregrine nesting substrate of gravel, butotherwise little has changed, other than perhaps our perception of theviability of bridge nesting peregrines and the role that our urbanecosystem can play in the recovery of a species.