Please, Stop Climbing Over The Wall

 

March 18, 2019

Courtesy Photo

Devil's Courthouse, at mile-marker 422.4, has been a nesting site for peregrine falcons. Due to too much human activity above the cliffs, a lone male has been spotted this year, and he is having trouble attracting a mate because so many people are going over the rock wall.

Due to human disturbance on Devil's Courthouse at milepost 422.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, peregrine falcons have yet to nest this year.

Once an annual site for males set on attracting a mate, this year, according to biologists who study the raptors, a lone male has been spotted but he is unlikely to find a suitable female because too many people are climbing over the rock wall.

Despite signage and an increased presence of National Park Service law enforcement officers, Chris Kelly, a wildlife diversity biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, said the absence of a mating pair is directly related to the amount of people she said are climbing over the rock barrier wall at the top of the mountain to take "selfies."


"I have been doing this since 2005 and it seems like there are more people crossing the rock wall," she said. "I think it has do to with selfies and posting it on social media. I have seen people up there drumming, doing yoga and picnicking but it's signed to not go behind that rock wall. The temptation is becoming too great."

Kelly said that peregrine falcons are more sensitive than other birds of prey and will leave their nest to investigate, causing the eggs to chill and dehydrate.

She said peregrines don't like any kind of activity, from natural animals who may be looking for their next meal to human exploration.

She said it is easier for her team to reach out to the Rock Climbing community, and the U.S. Forest Service will close climbing routes annually at popular spots like Looking Glass and Whiteside Mountain, but the National Park Service, the managing entity of the Blue Ridge Parkway, finds it harder to reach the amount of people who visit places like Devil's Courthouse.

"Some of these people are one time visitors to the Parkway," she said. "It's much harder for us to reach them. We all know people don't tend to read signs. There's a picture and some information up there but that doesn't mean people are going to read it."


It is currently nesting season for the peregrine falcon and they normally start incubating in early March. Kelly said there are only 13-15 nesting pairs in Western North Carolina each year and that nest success rates are poor.

She said Transylvania County has more pairs of nesting falcons than any other place in the state.

Bob Cherry, a wildlife biologist with the National Park Service, works with raptors that nest along the Parkway, as well as all the other critters that can be found in its corridor.

He said the Park Service is trying its best to increase its patrol of the parkway to deal with human disturbance of these areas, but he said there is typically one ranger covering about a hundred miles.

"Ideally, we would have a ranger sitting up there on top during the nesting season," he said. "It's difficult how we're dealing with it, so we are installing some new signs that are a different approach. They will say if you climb over the wall you can be arrested just to gain people's compliance. Right now, we're just trusting people to not go over the wall.

"We don't have the staff to be up there all the time. I know people have talked about closing the area but we're not getting to that point. We just want them to not climb over the rock wall and bother the falcons."

For more information about site closures along the Blue Ridge Parkway and sensitive mating seasons, visit http://www.nps.gov/blri/index.htm.

Courtesy Photo

The peregrine falcon, also known as the duckhawk, is one of the world's fastest birds – it can dive at speeds in excess of 200 mph. The raptor was endangered in the mid-20th century because of the effects of DDT and other pesticides.

 
 

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