Peregrine falcons — dark-plumed raptors and the fastest birds on the planet — favor rocky cliffs for nesting sites. This includes Wyoming’s iconic rock formation, Devils Tower.
Managers at the national monument recently closed about 50 traditional crack climbing routes on the southwest face to protect nesting sites.
The temporary closure takes place every year from spring to late summer or early fall, said Devils Tower Resource Program Manager Russ Cash, as a pair of nesting birds finds residence on the columnar formation. The reason behind the closure is two-fold, he said.
“If people get close to the falcons and the falcons are trying to lay a clutch of eggs, sometimes that puts the eggs at risk of being abandoned,” Cash said. “At the same time if the peregrines are feeling threatened or committed to that location, they may actually attack.”
Considering that the falcons, which are lethal hunters, “can dive-bomb at 180-mile-hour plus,” he said, it’s best to keep the two species separate.
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Park biologists will keep an eye on falcon activity, monitoring the nest to wait for chicks to hatch and making any necessary closure adjustments, Cash said. Once the chicks fledge and abandon their nest for the season, the park will reopen the routes. That typically happens in the fall.
“Throughout the summer you can hear them screeching and screaming all day long,” Cash said, adding that park staff and bird watchers get an opportunity to witness the chicks learn to fly, vocalize and maneuver. “It’s a really fun process to kind of watch them grow up.”
Though climbers have to take a break from some tower routes, Cash said they are generally amenable to the rules and often help report peregrine sightings.
“They are great at keeping eyes on the falcons,” he said.
About 5,000 people climb the tower each year, Cash said, making it one of the most popular climbing destinations in the country.