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Peregrine Falcon Nest Site Monitoring in Arizona



The peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) occurs throughout Arizona where steep cliff topography provides suitable nesting sites and its primary prey (other birds) occurs in adequate numbers. Breeding areas are most often found in open, remote landscapes such as canyons and mountainous areas, but a small number are increasingly found using tall buildings or other man-made structures in urban locations.  While many peregrine falcons remain in Arizona year-round, with some staying within their breeding areas, others may move from northern sites to southern Arizona, or migrate further south to Mexico or other areas in Central and South America during the non-breeding season.

In cooperation with States, other agencies, recovery team members and individual cooperators, a "post-delisting monitoring plan" (plan) was developed to assess population status and provide a system to detect declines in territory occupancy, nest success and productivity throughout the United States, with Monitoring frequency established at 3- year intervals.  In support of this plan, and to fulfill the Arizona Game and Fish Department's (AGFD) commitment to the conservation of this species in Arizona, AGFD conducted preliminary surveys in 2005 and completed formal monitoring in 2006 and 2009. The purpose of this research is to assess the population status by monitoring known breeding areas. The primary objectives remain constant for each monitoring period and include: 1) determine territory occupancy status, 2) assess nest success and 3) document productivity. 


A random sample of 60 breeding areas was selected for monitoring. These are widely distributed across the state occurring mostly in remote locations from the international boundary with Mexico in the south to a site approximately 16km from the Utah border in the north. Study sites are also spread out from the Colorado River in the west to within 4km of the border with New Mexico.  Elevations at these sites range from 122m (400 ft) at the Colorado River to 2500m (8200 ft) in the Rincon Mountains in the south central part of the state.


Our monitoring protocol was adapted from the Monitoring Plan for the American Peregrine Falcon: A Species Recovered Under the Endangered Species Act (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2003). We visited each targeted breeding area a minimum of 2 times to assess occupancy, and most sites were surveyed on 3 or more occasions to identify successful nests and estimate productivity.  Monitoring sessions were conducted by one or two observers in 4-hour blocks, mostly during early morning (30 minutes before sunrise to 3.5 to 4 hours post sunrise) or evening (3.5 to 4 hours before sunset to 30 minutes post sunset).  Some remote sites with difficult access or lengthy hiking times were monitored during 2 successive sessions.  When no PEFA activity was detected during a monitoring session, observers were instructed to conduct a "reasonable" search for an alternate eyrie location within the area.  Recommendations for this additional survey effort included a time limit equal to a monitoring session of 4-hours.


We observed 43 (72%) and 34 (57%) occupied sites in 2006 and 2009 respectively. Of these, 25 nesting sites (58%) were successful in 2006, but only 18 (30%) were confirmed as successful nests in 2009.  We estimated the number of young produced per occupied site at 1.05 in 2006 and 0.85 in 2009, and productivity per successful site at 1.80 and 1.61 young in 2006 and 2009 respectively. The population indices for monitored sites in Arizona were lower in 2009 than 2006.


Peregrine falcon breeding area monitoring is an important strategy to assess population health and stability, and to provide research-based information to guide planning and management decisions.  At the present time, results from just 2 monitoring years and the methods employed do not allow us to determine if the reduction in peregrine falcon activity is an early indication of population decline or sample bias. While this apparent decline is a concern, continued monitoring will be necessary for a more reliable population assessment and to determine if any management action is warranted.


For more information, please contact

Dennis Abbate

Arizona Game and Fish Department

5000 W. Carefree Highway

Phoenix, AZ 85086.

Phone: (520) 609-2167. Email:


Michael Ingraldi, Ph.D.

Arizona Game and Fish Department

5000 W. Carefree Highway

Phoenix, AZ 85086.

Phone: (928) 532-5625, Email:




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