Sex in the City: Breeding Behavior of Urban Peregrine Falcons in the Midwestern US

Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) were extirpated from most of the continental United States by widespread use of the pesticide DDT in the 1960s. Populations have rebounded with banning of the pesticide and successful implementation of captive breeding and hacking programs. An essentially new population of Midwestern peregrines now exists that is comprised almost entirely of urban-nesting birds. The new population is considered to be of mixed ancestry, occurs at relatively high densities, and has nest sites in close proximity, factors that could influence breeding behaviors including mate fidelity, nest-site fidelity, extrapair paternity, and natal dispersal. We investigated these behaviors using a combination of field observations and DNA microsatellite genotyping. Data for eleven microsatellite DNA markers, including eight newly developed for the species, were analyzed from a total of 350 birds from nine Midwestern cities, representing 149 broods collected at 20 nest sites. To document breeding behavior, parentage was inferred by likelihood techniques when both parents were sampled and by parental genotype reconstruction when only one parent was sampled. In cases where neither parent was sampled, a sibship reconstruction approach was used. We found high mate fidelity and nest-site fidelity in urban peregrines; in 122 nesting attempts made by long-term breeders, only 12 (9.8%) mate changes and six (4.9%) nest-site changes occurred. Only one brood (of 35 tested) revealed extra-pair paternity and involved a male tending two offspring of a recently acquired mate. Natal dispersal patterns indicated that female peregrines dispersed on average 226 km, almost twice the distance of males (average 124 km). Despite the novel environment of cities, our results suggest that monogamous breeding, nest fidelity, and female natal dispersal are high in urban peregrines, not unlike other raptors living in non-urban habitats.

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