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Peregrine Falcons soaring in greater numbers

PHOTO PROVIDED The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners removed the peregrine falcon from the threatened species list this week. This is due in part to action around the state, including in Lycoming County.

Populations of peregrine falcons are soaring the skies in greater numbers these days thanks in part to conservation efforts across the state and locally.

Dan Brauning, a retired Game Commission wildlife biologist and co-author of a management and recovery plan for falcons, said he’s seen their numbers rise in Lycoming County in recent years.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners this week removed the birds of prey from the state’s threatened species.

That move comes two years after the Game Commission upgraded the peregrine falcon from endangered to threatened species status.

“It’s a significant milestone for the conservation community,” Brauning said. “Peregrines were gone from the whole eastern United States in the 1970s.”

That was due, at least in part, he said to the widespread use of DDT, a once widely-used insecticide that poses serious health issues for humans and wildlife.

But in the past 40 years, action recovery efforts, including those by the Game Commission, have helped raise peregrine falcon numbers.

Local efforts have included placement of a nest box now located at the Market Street Bridge in Williamsport where falcons lay eggs.

“It’s a technique to improve nesting success,” Brauning said.

A pair of falcons now nesting there have slowly but surely helped introduce more raptors locally.

As far back as the 1990s, young peregrine falcons were released in the city of Wililamsport at the rooftop of the Genetti Hotel to help establish their populations, according to Brauning.

Despite their increased numbers, don’t expect to see great flocks of the birds populating the skies.

“The peregrines you would still call fairly rare,” Brauning said.

Still, there are places where they can be found, including nesting cliffs in the Pine Creek Gorge of Tioga County.

In addition to taking peregrine falcons off the threatened species list, the commissioners gave final approval to a separate motion intended to provide the peregrine falcon greater protection. As part of the penalty for killing a threatened species, a $5,000 replacement cost can be assessed. But when a recovered animal comes off the threatened-species list, the replacement cost drops to just $200, unless regulatory changes are made to increase it.

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