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651 Peregrine Falcons! New Single-day Record Count

October 10, 2012

By Rafael Galvez


A spectacular total of 651 Peregrine Falcons were tallied during today’s count (October 10, 2012) over the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, at Curry Hammock State Park. To our knowledge, this is the highest number of individuals of that species counted in a single day, anywhere in the world! The previous high count of 638 Peregrines had been established also at Curry Hammock on October 11, 2008. The photo above of a young Peregrine was taken at FKH by Kevan Sunderland.

The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a spectacular species that captures the attention of  observers at raptor monitoring sites the world over. Its power, speed and bold appearance have captured the imagination of humanity for ages.  Its near extirpation in North America because of the extensive use of organochlorine pesticides for insect control from the 1940s into the 1970s made it a federally endangered species. A broad range of conservation and reintroduction efforts resulted in the species bouncing back from the brink of extinction. Above, a Peregrine Falcon perched on a snag at Curry Hammock State Park, where FKH is based, photographed by Jeff Bouton.

I had been seriously observing birds for many years before I saw my first Peregrine Falcon in South Florida. I nearly crashed my parent’s car as a teenager when I saw it perched on an old snag in Virginia Key in the late 80s. I had grown up accustomed to accepting the species as “nearly gone.” It is hard to believe we witnessed the passage of 651 Peregrines in a single day. This takes us to 2812 of the species for the season!

Kettles of Anhingas can often be seen from the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, and it is not uncommon to find Peregrines in the midst. However, judging by this great photo taken by Ted Keyel, it is clear not everyone is comfortable with Peregrines in the vicinity. Interestingly, and not evident in this photo, distant Anhingas with their long pointed wings, powerful direct flight and capable soaring ability may be easily confused as Peregrines.

Not only was the day excellent for Peregrine flights, but a total of 14 raptor species were seen today from FKH for a total of 2076 raptors tallied:
Turkey Vulture – 16
Osprey – 42
Bald Eagle – 1
Northern Harrier – 57
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 283
Cooper’s Hawk – 76
Broad-winged Hawk – 710
Red-tailed Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 226
Merlin – 3
Peregrine Falcon – 651
Mississippi Kite – 1
Short-tailed Hawk – 7
Swainson’s Hawk – 2

Day’s Total – 2076
Season’s Total – 9878

We had a great team of observers at the hawkwatch today. It was great to have David Schaffter earlier in the day help us get on the birds an give us updates about the Cape Florida Banding Station. Charles and Colleen Caudill are back this year at the watch, and just in time; they have been great help in getting on high flying birds. Thanks Colleen for helping out at the Long Key transect count this morning, and for doing clicker guard during the afternoon’s raptor rain. Bob Stalnaker joined us today – his first day this season – and what a first day it was! Ted Keyel and Rafael Galvez were the official counters. Visitors included Brett and Debbie Tomlinson, Debbie and Eddie Tennant, and Gwladys Eliot Scott.

Bob Stalnaker and David Schaffter discuss a kettle of Peregrines from the FKH deck (left) while Colleen Kimbert Caudill uses a Leica APO-Televid 65 scope (right) to discern distant Peregrines miles away from the count site.

Winds out of the NNE have finally taken over. After nearly 2 weeks of winds from the SSE and flights over the Bay, the floodgates finally opened and conditions have become favorable for raptor migration. Birds were mostly flying directly overhear at neckbreaking altitudes. It appears similar conditions will remain in the following days, so we look forward to the passage of many migrating birds, and especially Peregrines.

Non-raptor migrants have also been numerous in the Middle Keys over the last days. A massive passerine flight and landfall was evident over Long Key yesterday morning, October 9. A future post will go into detail about our project’s efforts towards monitoring morning flights or non-raptor bird species.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2012 7:35 am

    Since these measures were implemented, the Peregrine’s numbers have significantly recovered. Breeding the birds in captivity proved widely successful, and the falconry strategy of “hacking” back to the wild – feeding young birds while allowing them to fly free, letting them learn how to hunt and fend for themselves – helped ensure the safe survival of the Peregrine in the United States. On August 25, 1999, the world’s fastest animal was removed from the United States Endangered Species list.

  2. John Esau permalink
    October 13, 2012 8:06 am

    Ok…I drove from Boca Raton to Curry Hammock on Oct 9…Tuesday…and found no one and nothing! Where IS the FKH site at the park?

    • October 13, 2012 6:36 pm

      John, I am sorry to hear this. I am glad you found our website, and might conclude that you looked through it and gathered some information about our hours of operation and location. The Florida Keys Hawkwatch team was certainly there on October 9, 2012, including myself. We had several visitors that day and tallied 592 migrating raptors, including 318 Peregrines. We were all at the second floor of the campground bathhouse, as counters for this project have been located for the last 13 years. I am saddened to learn you drove such a long distance and did not find us. Even if you had arrived to Curry Hammock and walked up to the bathhouse before 9am or after 4pm (our hours of operation 9am to 4pm, Sept 15 to Nov 13 every day rain or shine) you would have found it decked out with all our interpretive banners, posters and signs. The balcony from the bathhouse has “outlooking” banners that read from quite a distance across the park: Florida Keys Hawkatch. As you may have noticed, a yellow Florida Keys Hawkwatch sign on the Overseas Highway points into the correct entrance of Curry Hammock State Park and is easily visible as you drive down the Keys. When you pull up to the park entrance booth, the rangers will gladly inform you about the hawkwatch and let you know where to park and go to, if you ask. They will even give you one of our brochures; we are happy to say we have a wonderful relationship with park staff. I also encourage visitors to give me a call – 305-804-6003 – prior to visits, as dozens of folks do on a weekly basis. The “Contact FKH” page on this website has all this info, and a map of Curry Hammock pointing at the exact location of the bathhouse and our observation deck. I hope this was useful and I’d be happy to assist you and welcome you to the Florida Keys Hawkwatch during a future visit. All the best, Rafael Galvez, Coordinator.

  3. October 14, 2012 3:31 pm

    Incredible count, congrats!


  1. Florida Keys Hawkwatch sets a new record! | Thermal Birding
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