Early in the planning stages for a major construction project on I-205’s Abernethy Bridge in Portland, peregrine falcons were already on the minds of everyone involved. And their baby birds (eyyases) are thriving!
These former Endangered Species Act protected birds, who reside in scrapes (nests on ledges), are often top-of-mind in conversations partners have when the project involves a bridge. Fortunately, ODOT’s team and partners knew exactly what to do.
And what is that? ODOT Biologist Ben White worked with construction crews and environmental consultants to encourage the peregrines to shelter in a location safer for the birds (as well as for the workers below). It seems to have worked: we have three new baby bird (eyeases) peregrine falcons!
While the peregrine falcon family did not respond to interview requests for this story, White and peregrine falcon expert Bob Sallinger agreed to share the experiences they’ve had with Oregon’s fastest creatures.
“The most gratifying part is being able to facilitate a true collaboration between environmental nonprofits, consultants and ODOT Maintenance and Construction crews to protect wildlife while we complete the important work we’re doing on the bridge,” White said. “It’s about coming together and problem solving rather than being on opposing sides.”
Our questions for the team
Peregrine falcons are not new to the Abernethy Bridge. How long have they been living there?
Peregrine falcons have been nesting on this bridge for more than 20 years. Because this was a known nesting site long before planning for the bridge replacement, we coordinated and minimized impacts in the design package for this project.
In general terms, what is the approach taken when peregrine falcons are discovered on or near ODOT facilities?
We actively monitor ODOT’s bridge nests for bridge maintenance activities. The best thing for these birds is usually to be hands off; they are highly territorial. They know what is best, so we will note the nest exists and leave it alone unless we determine a specific conflict is likely. When conflicts do arise, we have a Peregrine Falcon Management Plan to guide our responses.
When disturbances cannot be avoided, we work closely with Bob Sallinger from the consulting firm Mason Bruce and Girard to develop specific strategies to minimize impacts. In extreme situations, peregrines have been removed by Sallinger and raised in captivity before being released back into the wild, but that has not been necessary for more than a decade.
Where else are peregrines present and monitored?
In ODOT’s Region 1 (Portland metro area), peregrines live and are consistently monitored on bridges including the Abernethy, Boone, Fremont, Glenn Jackson, Interstate, Marquam and St. Johns.
Safety concerns for the newest peregrine falcon family on the Abernethy Bridge prompted moving the original nesting site to a safer location. How was this achieved?
We prioritize providing space for peregrine falcons to exist. Generally, we try to avoid impacts through time restrictions and monitoring. At times, we will try to deter them from nesting in high-risk areas and encourage them to nest in less hazardous areas for both worker and bird safety.
In this project, we removed nesting material and limited visibility to and from the original nesting sites. At the same time, we built nest boxes in different, safer locations. We then began weekly monitoring of the birds to ensure our efforts were successful. We have continued to monitor to make sure that our construction actions aren’t resulting in negative impacts to these birds as they hatch and grow.
Just how resilient are these birds in an urban environment?
Peregrines are resilient, especially with disturbances that are in place when they select a nest site, such as freeway noise, industrial impacts, etc. Concerns arise when the background changes to something new, especially if it involves new activity in the airspace close to the nest site.
Can you discuss the earliest days of our protections for peregrines?
Since the early 1990s when a pair of then-endangered peregrines first showed up on the Fremont Bridge, ODOT did an outstanding job to protect these birds. Since then, peregrines have established nest sites on several bridges, with ODOT playing an important role in helping the birds recover and flourish in Oregon. ODOT has worked with environmental groups such as Portland Audubon and Willamette Riverkeeper, as well as consultants Mason Bruce and Girard, to devise a comprehensive program over three decades. Some ODOT bridges have been among the most productive peregrine nest sites in the state of Oregon.
What makes ODOT peregrine falcons unique?
While some peregrines can migrate thousands of miles each year, most birds living above ODOT roads and bridges typically stay local throughout the year. We figure it’s because they love Oregon as much as we do!
Article by Ryan McCrary