Birds of Prey and the Cleveland National Forest

Golden Eagles

[Photo]: Golden EagleGolden Eagles are year-round residents of southern California and typically build their nests on cliffs, while foraging for food in grasslands.  The historic population in San Diego County around 1900 was estimated to be 80 to 108 breeding pairs.  The current population is approximately 46 pairs.
 
Eagle nests are considered "perennial," that is, once they are built, the birds return to them repeatedly over time.  Golden eagles usually have several nest sites and may alternate between them from year to year during their nesting period. Nesting activity usually begins in December and ends sometime in June.  Eagles are very sensitive to disturbance by people. The most critical period for avoiding disturbance to Golden Eagles is early in the nesting season (December to May), during courtship and incubation.  Eagles may abandon nests during early incubation if they are disturbed by humans who visit the nest area too often or for too long of a time, resulting in the death of potential fledglings.  Breeding success is also very dependent on prey densities. Due to high mortality rates it takes a pair 10 years to produce enough young to replace themselves. 
 
Golden Eagles are dark brown with a golden or light brown nape and dark eyes and beak. Their legs are feathered to toes.  Adult plumage is attained by four to five years of age. Plumages of both sexes are similar; however, immature birds usually lack the golden feathers, and have white patches near the base of the tail and sometimes on the wings.  Females are larger than males. 
 
In contract to widespread belief, golden eagles do not screech while attacking their prey. Communication is reserved for courtship, territory defense and communication with young Golden Eagles nest in open or semi-open habitats; nests are built on cliffs, in trees, or on man-made structures. Most nests are close to hunting areas with a good view of the surrounding area. Nests are constructed mainly of large dry sticks; size varies but initially 3 feet in diameter; height also increases over the years. Pairs commonly maintain alternate nests within their territory.  

Prairie Falcons

[Photo]: Male Prairie FalconAn efficient and specialized predator of medium-sized desert mammals, lizards and birds, prairie falcons are one of San Diego County’s scarcest breeding birds, with a population of 20 to 30 pairs.  Like all falcons, the medium sized prairie falcon has a large head, notched beak, and "heavy shouldered" streamlined body. The back and upper wing are medium brown with pale bars and fringes on most feathers and the tail shows light barring underneath. The pale underbody is spotted on the belly and barred on the flanks.  Sexes are similar in plumage; however the females have noticeably darker underwing patches. Narrow black malar stripes (mustache) extend from below the eyes downward along the chin. 
 
They nest on cliffs or bluffs, and they forage in open desert or grassland.  Falcons do not build nests; instead they scrape loose debris to form a small depression to hold eggs within a nest site. Most cliff nest sites have some overhang which provides protection from storms and hot sun. Like Golden Eagles, they may maintain alternate nests.  Their nesting period runs from approximately February through June.  Prairie falcons also use abandoned nests of eagles, hawks or ravens.  On occasion, they may nest in trees, on power line structures, on buildings and inside caves. Human activity near nest sites decreases fledgling survival rates.  Falcons will typically defend their nests, but too much disturbance from human activities may force falcons to abandon eggs or chicks. 
 
Prairie falcons actively search for prey during flight and catch prey on or close to the ground after a long low angled swoop from above or a ground-hugging flight that takes prey by surprise. They typically take birds and insects in mid-air.
 
The Prairie Falcon’s most common vocalization is the alarm/territorial call, described as a shrill kik-kik-kik, which is generally harsher and deeper with the female. During courtship, both sexes emit a characteristic eechup call. Females emit a distinctive whine/wail when soliciting food or copulations from the male. Both give a chitter call during aggressive interactions.
 
Peregrine Falcons
American Peregrine FalconPeregrine Falcons are highly specialized predators feeding primarily on birds.  Like Prairie Falcons, Peregrines  are one of San Diego County’s scarcest breeding birds, with a population of about 15 pairs. Peregrine falcons declined after the 1940s as a result of the widespread use of pesticides such as DDT.   This species has been restored to much of its former range through captive breeding and releases.   
Peregrines are similar in size to Prairie Falcons, with Peregrines being distinguished by dark gray or black plumage on back and wings, and a black mustachial mark on the face.  
 
Peregrine falcons typically nest on cliffs, with nesting initiated in February.  Young are fledged by June or July.   Human activity near nest sites decreases fledgling survival rates.  Falcons will typically defend their nests, but too much disturbance from human activities may force falcons to abandon eggs or chicks.   
The Peregrine Falcon is mostly likely to be heard giving an alarm call, which is a series of loud, harsh, "kak, kak, kak” sounds. 
 
The name "peregrine" means wanderer, and the Peregrine Falcon has one of the longest migrations of any North American bird.  Falcons that nest in Alaska and northern Canada winter in South America, and may migrate as much as 25,000 km (15,500 mi) in a year. 
 
Proactive Management on the Cleveland National Forest  
Protecting habitat for plants and animals that have small or declining populations is one of the many responsibilities of the Cleveland National Forest, as it is for other state and federal land management agencies.  We are currently evaluating the type of protection that is needed to maintain healthy breeding populations of Golden Eagles, Prairie Falcons, and Peregrine Falcons on the Cleveland NF.
 
These three birds of prey are residents of San Diego County.  Currently, approximately 46 pairs of Golden Eagles, 20 pairs of Prairie Falcons, and about 15 pairs of Peregrine Falcons live in the county.  Recent declines in Golden Eagle populations and several Prairie Falcon nest failures highlight the need for protection of these species.  Peregrine Falcons resumed nesting in coastal areas of San Diego about 20 years ago, but have just returned to inland nesting sites in the county after an absence of more than 60 years. 
Our Land Management Plan, which is the document that guides how we manage Cleveland NF land, requires protection of known active and inactive raptor nesting areas.  In addition, federal legislation such as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act requires us to protect these raptors. The golden eagle, peregrine falcon,  and prairie falcon are identified as "species of concern" in the Forest Land Managment Plan.
 
In order to protect a plant or animal species from declining populations and potential extinction, the Forest Service must sometimes close an area to certain activities.  These closures, which are often temporary or seasonal in nature, are designed to limit possible interactions between humans and the plants or animals that need protection.  This usually involves an area being closed to human activity during an essential portion of a species’ life cycle—for example, the breeding period for raptors, when they lay their eggs and raise their young.
 
Where can I see Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons?
The Ramona grasslands area, which is near the Ramona airport, is an excellent location from which eagles can be viewed year-round.  Prairie Falcons may sometimes be seen in the San Diego River Gorge near the San Diego Country Estates and Cedar Creek Falls.  Peregrine Falcons are present at Torrey Pines State Park. 
 
For more information about Golden Eagles, Prairie Falcons, and Peregrine Falcons please visit these websites:




https://www.fs.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsinternet/cs/detail/!ut/p/z0/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjo8zijQwgwNHCwN_DI8zPyBcqYKBfkO2oCABZcx5g/?position=Not%20Yet%20Determined.Html&ss=110502&navtype=&pnavid=130000000000000&navid=130120000000000&ttype=detai&cid=stelprdb5288506