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Peregrine falcons desert Blue Ridge Parkway cliff nests. People taking selfies blamed

Why have peregrine falcons abandoned a popular nesting cliff along the Blue Ridge Parkway?
Why have peregrine falcons abandoned a popular nesting cliff along the Blue Ridge Parkway? kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Cliffs along the Blue Ridge Parkway have long been a stronghold for peregrine falcons, so biologists were concerned when the threatened species suddenly abandoned one of its favorite nesting sites, the Devil’s Courthouse, for unknown reasons.

“Peregrine falcons form lifetime bonds and use the same cliff face nest sites year after year,” the National Park Service posted Sunday on Facebook.

“At Devil’s Courthouse...peregrines were able to nest from 2000 through 2007 producing 14 young birds that fledged. Since then, only one fledgling has been produced, in 2016, and in many years falcons have not been able to nest there successfully.

Biologists announced Sunday that they believe that is caused by increased human activity at the cliff. Specifically, people who are straying off marked trails and over restricting safety walls.

“This intrusion has likely caused the birds to abandon their nests,” said the park’s Facebook post. “Please help us and the falcons on the Parkway by staying out of closed areas which are in place to protect park resources for this and future generations.”

Park service officials stopped short of speculating why some people are invading the falcons’ space, but critics were quick to blame visitors obsessed with taking dramatic selfies atop the cliff.

The Devil’s Courthouse is 5,720-feet-tall, and visitors get “a 360-degree panorama” of multiple states from the top, according to Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.

Some people are now calling for the popular trail and parking area to be blocked off until the birds return.

“I would just go ahead and close it off. The birds are much more important than selfies,” wrote Craig Snyder on the Blue Ridge Parkway Facebook page.

“I’ve seen folks down below past the wall a few times. Made me want to climb down there and push them off,” posted another person on the page.

“Good luck, tourists are too infatuated with their Instagram pictures,” wrote Ray DeVoe on Facebook.

Peregrine falcons are listed as a threatened species in North Carolina, meaning it “is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future,” according to NCWildlife.org. They are known for a 46-inch wingspan and ability to dive at 200 mph.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.
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