Fledgling Aplomado Falcons at the Armendaris Ranch. These are the first falcons successfully raised in New Mexico in several decades. Copyrighted photo courtesy of Mark Lockwood, and used with permission.
After just two seasons, the release of Aplomado Falcons into New Mexico is already showing signs of success.
“Two birds released in 2006 formed a pair and successfully fledged two chicks” this year at the Armendaris Ranch, said Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund. “This is the first time that falcons less than a year old have been known to raise young.”
Successful nesting by the pair of falcons was the highlight of the season, Phillips said. “It speaks well to the procedures of the project, and to the ability of the land to provide what is needed for the birds to survive.”
Fifty of Aplomado Falcons have been released in the region during 2007 and 2006. Twenty-eight were released from two different hack sites on the Armendaris Ranch, owned by Ted Turner, and 22 on the adjacent White Sands Missile Range, state of Utah and Bureau of Land Management lands.
The released falcons originate at the breeding facilities of the Peregrine Fund in Idaho, and are designated as an “experimental, non-essential population” not protected by the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service and White Sands Missile Range are also partners in the project.
“An aggressive food provisioning program” was used to help the falcons survive during their release,” Phillips said. Supplemental food was provided for an additional seven months, until early spring, which is a longer period of time than is normally done when hacking raptors.
The introduced birds are given leg bands for identification purposes. The freed birds disperse, but 6-8-10 birds may be seen regularly around the Armendaris, Phillips said.
There have been no banded falcons reported by bird watchers in the region.
A habitat improvement grant of $7,728 provided to the TESF by the Fish and Wildlife Service Private Stewardship Grants Program, will fund the installation of nesting structures and an evaluation of their use through 2009. The artificial nest structures will be installed during the coming winter months, Phillips said.
The two sub-adult birds that successfully fledged young, built their nest on the cross bar of a high voltage transmission line.
The grant called for placement of 20 nest structures, but this is being reevaluated since an alternate design is being considered, Phillips said. “Mobile nest structures - although more expensive to build - would allow a better response to bird movement” and could be placed at sites preferred by the falcon pairs. A permanent nest platform could then replace the temporary structure.
The biggest question of the reintroduction program is how the released raptors will settle into the landscape, Phillips said. One big question is whether there is a sufficient prey base in this area of New Mexico.
The breeding success this year may indicate this raptor may be “far more tolerant of land use practices than people may realize,” he said. This may improve the chances to eventually establish a self-sustaining population in this portion of its historic range, the primary goal of this project.
Aplomado Falcon at the Armendaris Ranch. Copyrighted photo courtesy of Pat Obrien and used with permission.
“The restoration creates an opportunity for the falcons to succeed or fail on their own,” Phillips said. “If food is available, recovery is eminently possible.”
“Team Turner will continue its efforts during the next few years,” Phillips added. “If we get in a groove, we will keep doing more of the same. Our goal is to improve the conservation status of the Aplomado Falcon.”
About 100 birds are expected to be released in the region during a five-ten year period.
“We are years away from saying a population is in place,” Phillips said. After five years, a report of reintroduction efforts and results will be prepared for study and scientific evaluation by project participants.
Phillips said the project is ahead of schedule and under budget.
The focus on birds in peril such as the Aplomado Falcon fits well with the management goal at Turner Ranches properties to ensure survival of native species, he said.
The Northern Aplomado Falcon subspecies was classified in 1986 as an endangered species in the Texas portion of its range in the United States.
“Between 1986 and 1994, 58 nestlings were fledged for release by The Peregrine Fund at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas,” according to FWS information. The first successful nesting occurred in 1995.
“Aplomado Falcons once were widespread in the American Southwest, from southern Texas to eastern Arizona. 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,” according to information at The Peregrine Fund website.
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Reintroduction of the Aplomado Falcon is one of a score of conservation projects being carried out on ranches owned by Turner. The management strategy for all of the properties is to: “Manage the land in an economically sustainable and ecologically sensitive manner while promoting the conservation of native species.” Turner currently owns about two million acres, mostly in North America.
The 358,643-acre Armendaris ranch, in Sierra County, New Mexico, was bought in 1994, and “lies in south central New Mexico and contains some of the most pristine Chihuahuan desert grassland in the Southwest,” according to the Turner website. “Other features include desert scrub and riparian habitats along the Rio Grande and the Fra Cristobal Mountains.” Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is at the northern end of the ranch.
Populations of the Scaled Quail have been studied by researchers from Texas A&M University.
Other research projects in progress or completed on the ranch include radio collared sheep, cougars, bobcats, kit foxes, bison plus studies on prairie dogs, kangroo rats, willow flycatchers, grassland response to fire, livestock grazing, antelope population response to climate, according to Tom Waddell, ranch manager.
The fourth largest bat cave in North America, used by the Mexican Free-tailed bat, is present on the ranch.
The southwestern Willow Flycatcher - listed as endangered in the Southwest - and Yellow-billed Cuckoo - a species of local concern - occur at riverine habitats at the Armendaris.