Since 2001, researchers at W&M and VCU have been tracking young dispersing peregrine falcons on the inaugural trip from natal territory to wintering grounds. Photo by the Center for Conservation Biology
WILLIAMSBURG, Va., Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Until recently, researchers had few clues as to where exactly young peregrine falcons go on their inaugural trip from natal territory to wintering grounds.
They knew it was an important time in a young bird's life. In between, the adolescent falcons learn how to become self-sufficient. Their paths of self-discovery don't follow strict north-south trajectories, but neither are they aimless.
New analysis of more than a decade's worth of satellite tracking data suggests maturing falcons are drawn to significant geologic formations, as well as towering urban structures. The falcons move from place to place, convening with other falcons, visiting places their parents and relatives likely visited -- the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Brooklyn Bridge.
Researchers at the Center for Conservation Biology, a joint effort between the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University, tracked peregrines across 23 states. The birds' flight patterns revealed a strong affinity for the major cities of the East -- Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Cleveland and Detroit.
Their movements are most concentrated along the Eastern Seaboard and southern Appalachians. Moving inland, the birds' migrations are bounded by the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.
Their paths from natal territory to winter grounds averaged a length of 48 days.
Despite the new insights provided by center's tracking efforts, scientists say the exact nature of the interactions between young falcons -- or what exactly they learn from their travels -- isn't clear.