Peregrine falcons prefer nesting in Atlanta high-rises to North Georgia canyons

By David Pendered

Peregrine falcons have joined the back-to-the-city movement that has brought thousands of new residents into Atlanta. A new state survey shows that peregrines are likely nesting in high-rise buildings from Midtown to Buckhead, rather than on the faces of canyons in the mountains of North Georgia.

Peregrine falcon nest

Peregrine falcons are comfortable nesting in small indentations and crevices. Credit: mendobrew.com

Atlanta has been the state’s nesting hotspot for the speedy peregrine since 1996, when Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympic Games. The birds are more common in the city than in top nesting habitats in North Georgia, according to a statement from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The peregrines evidently are attracted to some of the same urban amenities that attract humans to the urban core – plenty of housing choices in high-rise buildings, and ample lighting that extends the dinner hour. Peregrines are fond of eating pigeons and doves, starlings and migrating yellow-billed cuckoos, according to DNR’s statement.

These birds are naturals when it comes to the fast life of city living. According to one of the Audubon field guides, the peregrine falcon is:

  • “One of the world’s fastest birds; in power-diving from great heights to strike prey, the Peregrine may possibly reach 200 miles per hour. Regarded by falconers and biologists alike as one of the noblest and most spectacular of all birds of prey. Although it is found on six continents, the Peregrine is uncommon in most areas; it was seriously endangered in the mid-20th century because of the effects of DDT and other persistent pesticides.”
four seasons hotel

A peregrine falcon was spotted in May near the Four Seasons Hotel, in Midtown. Credit: arestravel.com

The sight of a peregrine nest was once a highlight for visitors to the upper floors of SunTrust Plaza, in Downtown Atlanta. But nests haven’t been spotted on the building since 2015, according to DNR.

This doesn’t mean the birds have abandoned the tower. It does mean that bird nests have not been spotted in the small indentations and crevices where peregrines establish their nests. These birds don’t build nests from twigs and other material, as do birds including robins. Peregrines seem content to lay eggs in a hollowed-out area. Spotting nests isn’t easy.

A peregrine was spotted on May 11 in Midtown, at the Four Seasons Hotel, on 14th Street, according to DNR’s statement.

This Spring, the state conducted its first count of peregrine falcons since 1995. DNR provided the money to conduct the count by diverting funds from the count of bald eagles, a population that is enjoying a recovery in Georgia. The peregrine count was conducted by helicopter in North Georgia and on foot in Atlanta.

Here’s a snapshot of the program and its results:

  • “First aerial survey for peregrine falcon eyries (nests) in north Georgia since 1995. Prior surveys, including in 1987 and 1992, did not document a nest.
  • “Surveyed 14 North Georgia cliff faces and a communication tower in DeKalb County April 19. Sites included those used for hacking falcons from 1988-1994 (Yonah Mountain, Bell Mountain and Cloudland Canyon), and others where falcons had been reported or were potentially suitable.

    peregrine falcon

    Peregrine falcons, thought to reach speeds approaching 200 mph while hunting, seem to prefer nesting on high rise structures in Atlanta to canyons in North Georgia. Credit: Brian Kushner/Audubon Photography Awards

  • “No eyries found; one possible falcon seen, at the communications tower. At least five cliff faces appeared suitable for eyries, particularly Cloudland Canyon, site of a ‘wild’ nest in 1942.
  • “Follow-up search by ground in Atlanta May 11 included two sightings – a bird at Four Seasons hotel and in the ‘drum’ at the DeKalb tower. No definitive evidence that either was nesting.
  • “Peregrine falcons are state-listed as rare in Georgia and a high-priority species in the State Wildlife Action Plan.
  • “The word “peregrine” means ‘pilgrim,’ but has evolved in use to include ‘wanderer.’”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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