Park postpones rock climbing while chicks grow
TALLULAH FALLS, GA., May 12, 2016 -- A pair of peregrine falcons has built a nest and appear to be raising chicks again this year at Tallulah Gorge State Park. Last year was the first time in nearly 75 years that a peregrine nest in a natural setting had been spotted in Georgia. The only other known nests in the state are atop city office buildings.
Park officials are welcoming hikers to observe the raptors from overlooks; however, rock climbing has been suspended while the chicks, which are called eyasses, grow and fledge.
“We are encouraged that they’ve returned to Tallulah Gorge for a second year,” said park manager Danny Tatum. “It appears that the nest is behind a rock and just out of sight. But we’ve seen them bringing food back to the nest, so we assume the chicks have hatched.”
Peregrine falcons practically disappeared from the eastern United States a few decades ago, primarily because of the effects of the pesticide DDT, but also because of shooting and egg collecting. In fact, by the 1960s there were no peregrine falcons nesting in the eastern U.S. Built for speed, these birds can reach 200 miles per hour while “stooping,” or diving on, prey. Nest sites, called eyries, are normally on cliff ledges where the young are safe from predators. Yet in urban areas, peregrines have also adapted to nesting on buildings, bridges, and other structures. Georgia’s last known eyrie in the wild was found in 1942 in a gorge – likely in the area now known as Cloudland Canyon State Park – in the state’s northwest corner.
Biologists and birders are excited about the birds’ return to Tallulah Gorge. Bob Sargent, a program manager with the Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section, noted that many people have worked to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.
“Biologists in Georgia have long believed the nesting habitat and food resources at this park were tailor-made for peregrine falcons, so it is not a surprise this is where the first ‘natural-setting’ nest was discovered in the state after a 75-year absence,” Sargent said. “Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a budding population of breeding falcons in north Georgia. There are a lot of smiling faces in the raptor conservation community right now.”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, DNR and conservation partners released peregrines in north Georgia, including Tallulah Gorge, and in Atlanta. The first successful nest recorded as a result of these efforts was on the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Atlanta in 1996.
Tallulah Gorge State Park visitors are welcome to bring binoculars to overlook 9 to view the nest. An information box is stationed at the overlook; however, guests are encouraged to stop at the Interpretive Center first to get directions and viewing tips. The park is located off Hwy. 441, south of Clayton. Parking is $5 and camping is available. Nearby Black Rock Mountain State Park also has camping and cabins. To learn more, visit GeorgiaStateParks.org or call706-754-7981.
Georgians can help conserve peregrine falcons and other native wildlife that aren’t legally fished for or hunted through buying or renewing a bald eagle or ruby-throated hummingbird license plate. These wildlife tags support the DNR Nongame Conservation Section, which depends primarily on fundraisers, grants and direct donations to conserve Georgia’s nongame wildlife, rare plants and natural habitats.