The 2002 Hacking Season
Marta Curti— 20 July 2002 — in Aplomado Falcon Restoration ShareOn 6 July 2002, Peregrine Fund biologist field supervisor, Angel Montoya, Marta Curti, and landowner/rancher Jon Means opened the door to a hack box containing six juvenile Aplomado Falcons on the Means Ranch, just outside Van Horn, Texas. In less than an hour, three of the birds had emerged from the box. Soon after, a young male Aplomado took his first flight, marking the first time a known juvenile Aplomado Falcon has flown free across the open grasslands of the Chihuahuan Desert within the United States for over half a century.
Once ranging throughout much of the American Southwest, including parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the Aplomado Falcon was extirpated from the United States by the early to mid 1950s. In the early 1990s, The Peregrine Fund began a successful release program in south Texas, all the while keeping west Texas on its "wish list" as a potential release site. From the first glance at the open ranches, covered in large part by short grasses, Mormon tea, and soaptree yuccas surrounded on all sides by craggy mountains, it is easy to see why. Though markedly different from the south Texas environment (it lacks the cord grass, sea oxeye daisy and salt wort, which dominate the south Texas’ coastal prairies landscape), the essentials are the same: wide open spaces to hunt, good nesting spots, and abundant prey. In addition, Aplomado Falcons have historically occupied the area and relatively fewer aerial predators, such as Great-Horned Owls, made it a promising spot for releases.
Since July, 35 Aplomado Falcons have been released on two ranches, the Means and Miller ranches, located near Marfa, Texas. The young falcons are doing better than we could have imagined. Due to the large concentrations of insects in the area, the young falcons are becoming independent much more quickly than they do in south Texas. The hack site attendants have observed the young falcons, only a few days after the release, chasing and catching insects in the grass. Young birds have ranged a good distance from the release site. They have all had partial crops which indicates they are able to successfully hunt and catch prey on their own.
One of the highlights of the west Texas releases came only a few weeks ago when hack site attendants saw a wild Aplomado Falcon from Chihuahua, Mexico, perched only a few miles from the release site.
As in south Texas, ranchers in west Texas have signed on to the Safe Harbor Agreement, which makes the reintroduction program possible. The Safe Harbor Agreement allows The Peregrine Fund to seek out the best possible locations for releases while it protects private landowners and their rights to manage their land as they see fit, despite the presence of this endangered species on their property. To date, the program has been a complete success for both the falcon and for the landowners.
While we have suffered some losses from Great- Horned Owls, west Texas will be the focus of future releases and we hope to bring more landowners on board and increase the number of falcons released each year. Though it will be a few years before we can tell just how much of an impact these releases will make, this year’s experiences make us look forward to our future in west Texas with a great deal of optimism.
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