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gillis bridge birds 2021

For Immediate Release

June 15, 2021

Transportation and Wildlife Officials Band Peregrine Falcon Chicks at the Gillis Bridge Nest Box 

NEWBURYPORT – The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, (MassDOT) in collaboration with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP), is announcing the successful banding of two male peregrine falcon chicks from a nesting box on the Gillis Bridge in Newburyport.

On June 7, biologists from NHESP and MassDOT applied metal bands with unique identifying letters and numbers to the legs of the chicks. Reports from observers about the birds with these bands will allow biologists to track their dispersal, lifespan, and recovery from injuries. These male chicks will hunt on their own and search for their own territories this coming fall and winter.

MassWildlife’s NHESP has been monitoring the Gillis Bridge since 2017, when a pair of falcons were attempting to nest on the bridge’s pillars. An artificial nest box built by MassWildlife and installed by MassDOT in 2018 provided a safer environment for the raptors to lay eggs and raise chicks. Peregrine falcons historically nested on cliffs but have adapted to using man-made structures such a buildings, bridges, and quarries.

In addition to the Gillis Bridge in Newburyport, MassDOT and MassWildlife monitor twelve other falcon nesting 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, the I-91 Deerfield River Bridge in Deerfield, the Fore River Bridge in Quincy, and North and South End Bridges in Springfield.

The nest box installation 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 peregrine falcon’s status under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act was improved 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:

Follow this link to see time lapse photography of the Gillis Bridge nest box:




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