Summary: For this study, we gathered several kinds of data to determine the likely effects of low level jets and sonic booms on nesting Peregrine Falcons and other raptors. We directly observed responses to worst case stimulus loads: responses to extremely frequent and extremely nearby jet aircraft were often minimal, seldom significant and never associated with reproductive failure. Likewise, responses to real and simulated sonic booms were often minimal and never productivity limiting. In addition to directly observing behavioral responses, in 1981 we invited jet passes at four Prairie Falcon eyries during courtship and incubation when the adults were most likely to abandon, on an ad libitum basis. All four eyries fledged young. Nesting success and site reoccupancy rates were high for all eyries. In tests of two relatively naive captive Peregrine Falcons, we failed to detect significantly negative responses. Typically the birds either quickly resumed feeding or other activities within a few seconds following a pass or boom. The female falcon repeatedly made hunting forays as jets swept overhead. From heart rate (HR) data taken via a telemetering egg during incubation at a wild Prairie Falcon eyrie, we determined that stimulus induced HR alterations were comparable to rate changes of the birds settling to incubate following flight. No significant long term responses were identified. The falcons successfully fledged two young even with the more disruptive activities associated with entering the eyrie three times to position and recover the telemetering eggs. Significantly, birds ofprey of several genera commonly nest in the supersonic military operations areas in southern Arizona. In addition, raptor eyries are frequently found at locations where low level jet traffic naturally concentrates. For example, Prairie Falcon Site 11 is directly on the approach path to strafing and bombing targets. Prairie Falcon Site 1 is in a narrow canyon through which A-10 aircraft naturally funnel while flying low altitude tactical navigation (LATN) missions. Both sites successfully fledged young both years of the study. In summary, while the birds observed for this study were often noticeably alarmed by the subject stimuli, the negative responses were brief and never productivity limiting. In general, the birds were incredibly tolerant of stimulus loads which would likely be unacceptable to humans. It is significant that the endangered species recovery plan for the Peregrine Falcon in the southwest (USFWS 1977) fails to mention military jet operations as a likely factor in the falcon's decrease or that military jet operations should be taken into account in the species recovery.
Additional publication details
Responses of Raptorial Birds to Low Level Military Jets and Sonic Booms: Results of the 1980-1981 Joint U.S. Air Force-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Study