falconPeregrine falcons have been nesting on the roof of the Union County Courthouse tower in Elizabeth every year since 2006, when the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection assisted Union County in erecting a nest box there.

Nesting attempts prior to 2006 failed, likely because windy conditions on the roof prevented the nest materials from taking hold.

Every year, state wildlife biologists climb the top of the courthouse to band the new chicks.  

Peregrine falcons are crow-sized predatory birds and are an endangered species, according to state wildlife officials. Falcons traditionally have nested on cliff faces and rocky outcrops, but as these habitats vanished, the birds turned to high buildings and bridges to build their homes.

In the 1960s and 70s there was a steep decline in numbers, often attributed to the widespread use of DDT. Since the pesticide was banned, their numbers have increased, although they are still considered an endangered species. State officials estimate that there are only 25 known pairs in New Jersey.

Falcons are raptors, or “birds of prey,” a group of birds that includes hawks, owls, eagles and vultures. They are considered to be the fastest animal on the planet in their hunting dive. Called the “stoop,” the hunting maneuver involves soaring to a great height and then diving steeply at speeds said to top 200 miles per hour.

Along with the peregrine falcon, the  bald eagle and the osprey are two other raptors that have made impressive comebacks from the brink of extinction, in large part thanks to the efforts of government biologists and local partners.

Unfortunately, not all species of raptors are thriving. The American kestrel, for instance, has experienced a sharp decline in recent years according to the Endangered and Nongame Species Program continues.

Peregrine Falcon Information

Peregrine falcons, like other birds of prey high on the food chain, were particularly susceptible to DDT which caused their eggs to fail. They became extinct east of the Mississippi by 1964. They were one of the first birds to be the focus of the conservation movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Through an intensive reintroduction program, they returned to the skies in New Jersey and other eastern states in the 1980’s.

Since 2000, the population in New Jersey has been fairly consistent at 20-24 nesting pairs annually. In 2003 peregrine falcons returned to their historic cliff nesting habitat on the Hudson River Palisades – a significant milestone in the peregrine’s recovery in the state and the region.

PDF Peregrine Falcon Reports: