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Final Raptor Monitoring Update for 2020

Greetings Everyone -

The breeding raptor season is finally wrapping up at Pinnacles National Park and I wanted to provide a final update on the 2020 breeding season.

Prairie falcons (PRFA) and peregrine falcons (PEFA) finished nesting in cliff cavity sites and young successfully fledged from the nest sites. Raptor advisories have been lifted for the remainder of the year, but partial closures are still in effect at Machete Ridge. For further information refer to the Pinnacles raptor advisories page - and feel free to ask me for further clarifications.

For the 2020 season, nine PRFA pairs and four PEFA pairs occupied territories, and of these, seven PRFA pairs and all four PEFA pairs nested this year. Four PRFA nests and three PEFA nests successfully fledged young from their nest sites. For information on territory locations and rock formations, refer to Brad Young's climber's guidebook to Pinnacles.

PRFA and PEFA breeding efforts for 2020 are listed below:

 
  • Resurrection Wall: PRFA nest, successfully fledged 3 young
  • The Egg (on west side of High Peaks): PRFA pair confirmed, not nesting
  • Prescribed Burn Cliffs / Piedras Bonitas: PRFA pair confirmed, not nesting
  • South Balconies: PRFA nest, nest failure
  • Crowley Towers: PRFA nest, nest failure
  • Citadel: PRFA nest, successfully fledged 4 young
  • Willow Spring Slide: PRFA nest, nest failure
  • North Chalone Peak: PRFA nest, successfully fledged 3 young
  • South Chalone Peak: PRFA nest, successfully fledged 4 young
  • Hawkins Peak: PEFA nest, successfully fledged 4 young
  • General Balconies: PEFA nest, successfully fledged 2 young
  • South Chalone Peak: PEFA nest, nest failure
  • Frog / Hand: PEFA nest, successfully fledged 2 young

As noted above, climbing and hiking advisories have been lifted for the 2020 season. The official park website reflects current advisory information, as do the Friends of Pinnacles and Mud 'n Crud websites. Let me know if you have further questions.

See photo gallery below: PRFA male adult making an aerial food delivery (of western meadowlark prey) to a recent fledgling, at South Chalone Peak.

Highlights for cliff-cavity nesting falcons this year include four PEFA nesting pairs producing eight fledglings (as mentioned above), a record high documented at Pinnacles in the past 35 years of the monitoring program. Also of interest is the close proximity of two PRFA and PEFA nesting pairs, at South Chalone Peak and at Balconies. In some situations in previous years, PEFA pairs have apparently pushed PRFA pairs out of historical nesting territories, so it is intriguing to see at least certain situations where PRFA and PEFA pairs have been able to tolerate each other in close proximity of nesting efforts.

In addition to PRFA and PEFA, we had a very productive breeding season for other nesting raptor species. In all we confirmed 45 raptor nests for 11 species this year; those in addition to PRFA and PEFA are listed below:

  • golden eagles: 1 nest
  • red-tailed hawks: 11 nests
  • red-shouldered hawks: 4 nests
  • white-tailed kites: 1 nest
  • American kestrels: 5 nests
  • Cooper's hawks: 5 nests
  • long-eared owls: 2 nests
  • great horned owls: 3 nests
  • barn owls: 2 nests

The confirmed white-tailed kite nest is noteworthy because we don't consistently have kites nesting at Pinnacles - the habitat at the park, and availability of California voles as the main prey source for white-tailed kites, is somewhat marginal. Fortunately the nesting kite pair successfully fledged 3 young.

See photo gallery below: White-tailed kite young just starting to fledge.

After the 3 white-tailed kite young had fledged, they were later seen with adults and at least 2 other white-tailed kite fledglings in the area, likely representative of an additional successful nest effort by kites in the park this year!

Long-eared owls successfully occupied territories and fledged young this year as well.

See photo gallery below: Adult long-eared owl near the end of the breeding season.

Five Cooper's hawk nests were confirmed this year, and four of them successfully fledged young. In addition to white-tailed kites and long-eared owls, these forest hawks are important to document because they are sensitive to disturbance and tracked as California species of concern by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Documentation of these nesting species helps confirm our understanding of the health and diversity of Pinnacles habitats and provides important data points for future management recommendations.

See photo gallery below: Two photos of Cooper's hawk young, the first just fledging from its nest site, and the second still hunkered down and a day or two from fledging.

Our success in tracking so many raptor nests this year is definitely thanks to the efforts of our passionate and committed raptor monitoring volunteers - Megan Gnekow, Mike Baird, and Joseph Belli. All of them have been volunteering with the condor and raptor monitoring programs for years, and their assistance in confirming raptor status at the park this year is greatly appreciated. I also want to thank the condor interns - Kaitlin Lopez and Isaac Henderson - for their observations of falcon nesting and other raptor activity in the High Peaks this season. Linda Reganv also deserves special acknowledgement for her attention to white-tailed kite and other raptor nesting in Regan Canyon and her willingness to allow us to explore and document raptor nesting in the beautiful habitat there. We would not have been able to document the diversity and breadth of raptor nesting at Pinnacles this year without their combined expertise and passion.

Thank you to all the staff who have continued to provide me with raptor observations; every detail on raptor behavior has helped to provide a more complete picture of raptor breeding at the park. If anyone on staff wishes to report raptor or other observations, I would greatly appreciate it if you email me details including time, location, species, and details of activity observed.

Thanks, everyone - take care, stay safe, and we will look forward to what future breeding seasons bring for raptor diversity and nesting at Pinnacles!

GAVIN EMMONS
Wildlife Specialist
5000 Highway 146, Paicines, CA 95043
831-389-4319
Pinnacles National Park


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  • PCAD 2020 Cancelled

    I am sad to say that the event is just not feasible in light of everything that is going on with the pandemic.

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