While out in the field, it’s easy to think the biggest safety concerns are slippery surfaces, falling debris, and dangerous chemicals. What about the fastest member of the animal kingdom nosediving towards you at 200 mph?
In the wild, Peregrine Falcons build their nests on high cliffs to keep safe from any creature that might try to dine on their eggs for their next meal. That’s why bridges also serve as a perfect nesting place for these birds, providing the high vantage point to hunt abundant prey, while shielding their nests from harm.
Their high speeds and aerial acrobatics make Peregrine Falcons an impressive bird, but they are also a safety challenge that engineers need to be prepared for. Although falcon attacks may happen, there are ways to mitigate the danger. Peregrines are a protected species and are extremely territorial during their nesting and breeding seasons, Spring through early Summer. It is important to check regulations and bridge owner protocols before heading out on any bridge. For the most part, these birds will give you a fly-by (high speed pass), but there are times when they are irritated enough to give you a glancing hit as they fly past you. When they do strike you, they tuck their talons against their body; thus, as long as you don’t have any exposed skin, they aren’t likely to do any damage. Falcons will generally hit the highest point on a person, so anyone working in the field, from contractors to inspectors, need to make sure they are wearing a helmet with a chin strap on any site where there might be a falcon.
If your interest is piqued about these fascinating birds, nest cams are a must-watch for a glimpse into their lives. In order to build their nest in the wild, falcons scratch out a shallow indentation in the ground. On bridges, narrow steel ledges won't allow this, so nest boxes with small gravel are provided at over 40% of falcon sites. Located inside the Peregrines’ bridge nests, many states have live stream nest cams during nesting season so that anyone can watch the daily interactions between falcons and their chicks. You can sometimes even see the types of prey that are brought back to the nest.
So, the next time you see a dark bird perched on the top of a bridge or swooping along the water, make sure your helmet is strapped on tight, and take in the beauty of the Peregrine Falcon!