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April 2014 Raptor/Closures Update

Greetings everyone! Here is an update on raptor activity at Pinnacles National Park for the past 5 weeks.

Prairie falcons (PRFA) have selected nest sites and are at last incubating eggs. Two peregrine falcon (PEFA) pairs - one that nested last year for the ninth consecutive year at Hawkins and another that occupied the Balconies area for the first time in 50 years - have also chosen cliff cavity nests and are incubating eggs. At present the following have been documented:

  • 12 PRFA pairs
  • 2 PEFA territories

These are listed below with current nesting status:

  • Resurrection Wall: PRFA pair, nest confirmed
  • Teapot Dome / Tunnel / Egg: PRFA pair, nest confirmed
  • Hawkins Peak: PEFA pair, nest confirmed
  • General Balconies: PEFA pair, nest confirmed
  • South Balconies: PRFA pair, nest confirmed
  • Crowley Towers: PRFA pair, nest confirmed
  • Citadel: PRFA pair, not yet nesting
  • Little Pinnacles (Yaks): PRFA pair, not yet nesting
  • Willow Spring Slide: PRFA pair, nest confirmed
  • Drywall Slide: PRFA pair, nest confirmed
  • North Chalone Peak: PRFA pair, nest confirmed
  • NE Section 15: PRFA pair, nest confirmed
  • South Chalone Peak: PRFA pair, nest confirmed
  • Pig Canyon: PRFA pair, nest confirmed

The following territories are currently unoccupied, with no prairie or peregrine falcons observed within them:

  • Scout Peak
  • Pipsqueak Pinnacles
  • Discovery Wall
  • Frog / Hand
  • Piedras Bonitas Cliffs / Gargoyle
  • Tugboat
  • North Balconies
  • Machete Ridge
  • Central High Peaks
  • Goat Rock
  • D. Soto Canyon
  • Guard Rock
  • Rocks West of Chalone Housing
  • Mating Rocks
  • North Wilderness Rock
  • South Wilderness Rock
  • Marion Canyon

In general, PRFA activity this season seems to be proceeding normally in regards to annual occupancy and courtship schedules. Although nest sites have not been confirmed for PRFA pairs at Little Pinnacles (Yaks) and Citadel, the falcons at these territories may attempt late season nest efforts. The confirmed PEFA nests are particularly significant, representing the first time in over 50 years that we have had peregrine falcons nesting on the West Side. Historic park maps from the 1920s and 1930s showed "falcon sanctuaries" or "peregrine areas" in the Balconies and Machete areas, indicating that park managers were aware of the importance of protecting nesting birds of prey even then. This protection of nesting falcons provided strong justifications for the inclusion of Balconies and Machete in the park property as the Pinnacles boundaries expanded early in the 20th century. It is amazing to see that peregrine falcons have finally returned to nest on the West Side on their own!

Please note that climbing and hiking advisories are in effect and have just been updated as of April 25th. Raptor advisory signs have been placed at Hawkins, Balconies, and Little Pinnacles, to protect these sensitive species from the pressures of off-trail hiking and climbing during the upcoming nesting season. Updated raptor advisory brochures / handouts will be available at the east side Pinnacles Visitor Center and the west side Visitor Contact Station. If interpretive staff and law enforcement rangers can see that they get distributed appropriately, it would be greatly appreciated!

Climbers in general have been doing a great job of adhering to the advisories. Hikers have been seen occasionally hiking in advisory areas at Hawkins and Scout Peak but disturbance to falcons has not been documented. Any assistance park staff can provide in diverting visitors from advisory areas, and reporting incidents of climbers and hikers in advisory areas to law enforcement staff, is highly appreciated!

Golden eagles have also been seen regularly in and near the park over the past 5 weeks, with a pair actively courting at North Chalone Peak, but no nesting activity has been confirmed yet in the park. A golden eagle pair has been confirmed nesting just outside of the park, along Highway 146 leading into the West Side, likely incubating eggs or young nestlings.

Other nesting raptors observed in the park through April include:

  • American kestrels
  • red-shouldered hawks
  • a long-eared owl pair.

Notably, a few red-shouldered hawk pairs and all confirmed red-tailed hawk pairs at Pinnacles appear to still be courting rather than nesting... Usually these larger hawk species are well into nesting efforts by this point in the year. Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks are active throughout the park along riparian corridors. Owls have been unusually quiet so far this season but will hopefully pick up as the breeding season proceeds.

Thank you to all the staff who have continued to provide me with raptor observations; every detail on raptor behavior helps to provide a more complete picture of raptor breeding at the park. If anyone on staff wishes to report raptor observations, I would greatly appreciate it if you please fill out a wildlife observation card, and deposit it in my box in the RRM Office.

Also note that Alyson Schmidt is assisting with raptor monitoring efforts this season, as are two volunteers: Autumn Sartain and Megan Gnekow. If you see them scanning for raptor activity, feel free to report any raptor observations to them as well!

In particular, thanks to James Bouknight, Josh Littlejohn, Brent Johnson, Sierra Willoughby, Paul Johnson, Joseph Belli, Linda Regan, Dan Ryan, Jennie Jones, Danielle Powell, Arianna Punzalan, and Alacia Welch for raptor observations. I appreciate the support!

If you have any observations within the park to report, or any raptor-related questions, please contact me through email or extension 276. Thanks!



GAVIN EMMONS * Raptor / Condor Biologist *
5000 Highway 146, Paicines, CA 95043 * 831-389-4486 x276 *
Pinnacles National Park


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