Breeding Bird Atlas 1 Species Accounts

Peregrine Falcon
Falco peregrinus

State Status

The history of nesting Peregrine Falcons in Massachusetts in some ways parallels that of Bald Eagles, except that the record is clearer and the documentation for the local demise more complete. In Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States (1927), Forbush depicted the location of 11 historic Peregrine Falcon aeries. During the course of his duties to protect Massachusetts Peregrine Falcons from egg collectors and falconers in the 1930s, State Ornithologist Joseph A. Hagar visited most of the sites described by Forbush, in addition to locating four new aeries that had never been documented previously. By the 1940s, the threats had diminished considerably; however, beginning late in that decade, Hagar began to notice a significant decline in falcon productivity. Eventually, eggshell thinning was documented, and DDT was identified as the causative agent, just as it had been for declining Bald Eagle populations during the same period. By the mid-1950s, reproduction by Massachusetts Peregrine Falcons had ceased.

In an effort to restore the beleaguered Peregrine Falcon population, in 1973 the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology initiated a captive breeding program that would eventually make it possible to return captive-raised Peregrine Falcons to the wild. Early attempts with this technique at Mount Tom in Massachusetts during the late 1970s were unsuccessful. Starting in 1984, a different approach was attempted when six young Peregrine Falcons were placed in a hacking tower atop Boston’s McCormack Building. Although the success of some of these initial hacking attempts was mixed, 1989, after six years of hacking efforts, wild Peregrine Falcons started nesting once again in Boston and Springfield. By 1999, there was a successful nesting pair in Boston, Suffolk County; Springfield, Hampden County; and Fall River, Bristol County.