Pair of Peregrine Falcons Gets New Home at Manahawkin Bay

A State-Sponsored Valentine’s Day Gift for Two Special Lovebirds
Feb 14, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The curious-looking structure standing out in the marsh off Route 72 to the south of the new Causeway Bridge, near where the old shack once stood is a habitat for a nesting pair of peregrine falcons, according to Ben Wurst, habitat program manager with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Construction took one week and was completed Tuesday morning. The tower, measuring 16 feet tall with an 8-foot-square platform on top, is made with locally grown and sawn New Jersey white cedar and stainless steel hardware for weather resistance. An igloo doghouse sits on top with gravel inside, where the birds will make a shallow depression in which to lay eggs this spring. Predator guards on the posts protect the platform.

A nesting pair (one of only about 30 in New Jersey) was found on the bridge itself, on one of the giant girders, back in 2015, so the New Jersey Department of Transportation called in the state Endangered and Nongame Species Program, and CWFNJ was subcontracted to build the tower.

“I climbed up under there myself, and I couldn’t even really believe they laid an egg,” Wurst said.

The same birds are often seen hanging out on the Surf City water tower.

Thus far the bridge project has been able to continue as planned while giving the birds their space, but it was clear going forward the best course of action was to get the birds out of harm’s way.

“No one wants to hear the bridge is going to be delayed,” he said.

Since that time, additional eggs have been discovered – those known not to hatch were collected for contaminant studies – and two young even fledged, but one was found in the water and later died, and the other was never found.

In order to launch successfully, the birds need airflow for proper lift, Wurst explained. Under the bridge, they can’t get enough exercise for their wings or the right conditions for takeoff.

A falcon tower is larger than the more commonly seen osprey towers. There are now four falcon towers in the area, including one in the federally protected marsh in Manahawkin, one on Sedge Island and one down on the Mullica River. Historically, falcons nest on old hacking sites (“hacking” is a training method to give young falcons exercise and experience to become independent hunters), Wurst explained, but the new one near the bridge will be used strictly for nesting purposes.

The mating season begins in late March or early April, he noted.  —V.F.

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