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The Peregrine falcon nesting box situated underneath the deck of the Milton-Madison Bridge last week was relocated from a pier in the middle of the river to Pier 5, the one closest to the Indiana side.
The measure, completed by officials from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, is intended to protect the birds during construction of the new bridge superstructure, which, eventually, will sit on the existing piers of the span that carries U.S. 421 from Milton, Ky., to Madison, Ind.
The box is used by the same mating pair of falcons during nesting season, which runs from February to June nesting season. Once the new bridge is complete, KDFWR officials plan to move the box back to its original location.
Pier 5 will be removed at the end of the project in 2012, as it is the only pier found to be deficient. A new pier will be installed on the Indiana bank of the river to replace it.
“We want to encourage nesting in a place that’s safe for them and temporarily out of the way of construction,” said Kate Heyden, avian biologist with KDFWR.
Heyden said netting will be placed at the nest’s original site to discourage the falcons from returning there.
Falcons have nested on the Milton-Madison Bridge since 2002. Once on the endangered species list, Peregrine falcons are still federally protected; it is illegal to harm or destroy a falcon or its nest.
“People sometimes wonder why we’re making such a fuss over this one nesting pair,” said Heyden. “But peregrine falcons are rare in Kentucky; there are only 13 known nesting pairs statewide.”
Peregrine falcons are strong hunters, diving at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour to prey on other birds in mid-flight.
“They do a service for us by helping to control pest species, like pigeons and starlings,” Heyden explained.
KDFWR will monitor the falcons closely during the nesting period. Construction workers will be encouraged to avoid working within 300 feet of the nest, which the falcons have been known to aggressively protect.
“The birds – which pair for life – begin courting in February. By June, the little ones learn to fly and leave the nest; but the adults will sleep in the box, off and on, year-round,” Heyden said.
The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) committed to relocating the nesting box as part of the project’s environmental process.
“INDOT and KYTC recognize that peregrine falcons are one of those unique and rare resources worthy of protection,” said Kevin Hetrick, INDOT project manager. “We will do our best to protect the falcons as we move forward with this project.”