Biologists are pleasantly surprised by the arrival of newly hatched chicks to a pair of one-year-old Northern Aplomado Falcons released last year in New Mexico. The birds are the first reintroduced falcons to reproduce in the state.
"It's rare for juvenile birds to successfully lay eggs and produce chicks," said Bill Heinrich, a biologist with The Peregrine Fund, the non-profit organization leading the recovery effort. "We weren't expecting this to happen for another year or two when they are a bit more mature."
Recently, two nests with chicks also were observed in West Texas for the first time in a century. These chicks were also produced by reintroduced falcon parents.
The young falcons in New Mexico were bred and hatched in captivity at The Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. They were among 11 chicks released last year on the private Armendaris Ranch in New Mexico as part of a multi-partner effort to recover the rare bird. Additional birds are scheduled for release in New Mexico over the next nine years. The first release for 2007 is scheduled for July on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico State lands, and White Sands Missile Range.
The juvenile pair that produced the two chicks flourished on the Armendaris under the watchful eye of ranch manager Tom Waddell.
"This very special event occurred on a very special ranch under special circumstances," Waddell said.
Aplomado Falcons once were widespread in the American Southwest, from southern Texas to eastern Arizona, but by the 1950s their range was restricted to a few areas in Mexico, most likely due to the combined effects of habitat changes, pesticides, and human persecution.
"I'm extremely excited to hear the news," said Benjamin N. Tuggle, Ph.D., Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest Region. "I was fortunate to be the one to open their boxes last August and set them free. We extend a special thank you to the Armanderis Ranch for stepping up and hosting the first birds. Now the birds are doing exactly what we want them to do – thrive and reproduce in their native Land of Enchantment."
The Peregrine Fund began releasing Aplomado Falcons in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in South Texas in 1993, and in 2006 a self-sustaining population had become established. Since then, the focus of the release effort has shifted to West Texas, where birds have been released on numerous private ranches since 2002.
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