While the park has been closed to the public for several weeks, the wild animals that call Yosemite home have been going about their daily business. Park rangers and residents have spotted bears and bobcats meandering openly in the Valley. A coyote was caught on camera lounging in an empty parking lot across from Yosemite Falls.
And high above the Valley floor, love is in the air … literally! On and around the park’s towering granite walls, peregrine falcons have been carrying out their spring routine: pairing up with their mates and rearing another generation of once-endangered raptors.
For years, Yosemite Conservancy donors have supported efforts to protect the park’s peregrine falcon population. As elsewhere, Yosemite’s peregrine numbers plunged in the mid-1900s and have since bounced back, thanks to a nationwide DDT ban and years of focused species restoration work.
Now, Conservancy-supported seasonal surveys help park biologists keep tabs on falcon activity and identify nest sites on granite walls, columns and domes. Researchers scope out known peregrine breeding locations and search for signs of new nesting areas. Their observations inform strategies for protecting falcons, such as temporary climbing-route closures and airspace buffers.
This spring’s surveys in and beyond Yosemite Valley have confirmed that peregrine falcons are hunting, courting, laying eggs and raising their young on the park’s world-famous rock formations. As of early May, the park’s peregrine researcher, Sean Smith, had observed at least eight nesting pairs, including on two cliffs where falcons hadn’t been spotted in prior years’ surveys.
While zooming in on the walls through a scope, Smith captured a quick video of an adult falcon feeding her chicks on a rocky ledge — see if you can spy the raptor family near the left side of the frame:
As nestlings grow, peregrine parents work together to make sure their chicks stay warm, safe and nourished. That means constant hunting for small birds and other prey to feed their families — and defending territory from fellow raptors. This spring, Smith watched a falcon pair chase a bald eagle away from their brood: After both parents showed off their impressive speed while diving at the eagle, the female zoomed back to the nest and chicks while the male flew on to escort the eagle out of the area.
Later this summer, Yosemite’s young falcon fledglings will take to the skies, testing their wings in the Sierra air as the newest members of this recovered species.
To learn more about peregrines, and about the falcon-focused work Conservancy donors support in the park, read our “Protecting Peregrines” story.
Top: A peregrine falcon soars over Yosemite Valley. Photo by James McGrew (2015).