The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is pleased to announce, that in partnership with MassWildlife, a wildlife monitoring camera has been installed on the Gillis Bridge in Newburyport to monitor peregrine falcons nesting on the Newburyport side of the bridge. The Gillis Bridge nesting box, built by MassWildlife, was installed by MassDOT in 2017. This year, a camera was installed to take photographs of the box every 15 minutes during daylight hours. Images can be viewed online: www.senserasystems.com/public/project/gillisbridgeperegrinecamera.
Members of the public can also view the falcon box from the Clipper City Rail Trail under the south side of the bridge; binoculars are recommended. Three falcon eggs were laid and it’s believed that at least one egg hatched earlier this week as an adult falcon was recorded feeding a presumed chick in the nest box. MassDOT will provide more updates on the falcons as they continue into the nesting season.
“We are grateful for the partnership with MassWildlife which allows us to continue to protect a rare species while at the same time helping to protect the steel on our bridges,” said Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver. “MassDOT engineers and scientists collaborate on a number of initiatives to protect wildlife, including nesting boxes, and these steps help our friends in the natural world while at the same time protecting our infrastructure and in some cases keep drivers safe, as in the case of wildlife travel tunnels under our roadways.”
“It’s appropriate that as we mark Endangered Species Day we celebrate the conservation efforts to restore the world’s fastest bird, the peregrine falcon, and the partnership between MassDOT and MassWildlife,” said MassWildlife Director Mark Tisa, “This is a wonderful example of how the two agencies work together to achieve goals for both rare species conservation goals and transportation infrastructure planning and maintenance needs.”
In addition to the Gillis Bridge in Newburyport, MassDOT and MassWildlife monitor nine other falcon nesting box locations statewide: Braga Bridge in Fall River, the Tobin Bridge in Chelsea, the Massachusetts Turnpike Bridge over the Connecticut River in Chicopee, Calvin Coolidge Bridge in Northampton, the French King Bridge in Erving and Gill, Chelsea Street Bridge in Chelsea, Muller Bridge in Holyoke, Basiliere Bridge in Haverhill, and the I-91 Deerfield River Bridge in Deerfield.
The nest program also benefits transportation infrastructure, as it is well known by engineers, (and birders), that bridges are a favorite roosting habitat for pigeons. The birds’ guano accumulates on bridge surfaces, increasing oxidation rates of steel, creating rust, resulting in increased maintenance needs. Fortunately, peregrine falcons excel at hunting pigeons. State biologists and engineers have seen reduced pigeon populations at bridges with nesting falcons. Nest boxes protect vulnerable eggs and chicks from the elements and MassWildlife biologists have observed an increase in falcon chick numbers occupying the bridge nest boxes.
Thanks to conservation efforts around the country, the peregrine falcon was removed from the federal Endangered Species Act list in 1999. In 2019, the state-endangered species status was downgraded from Threatened to Special Concern. Massachusetts is currently home to nearly 50 breeding pairs of falcons.
Follow this link to learn more about the recovery of the peregrine falcon and other species in Massachusetts: www.mass.gov/service-details/rare-species-success-stories.