We estimated effects of low-level military jet aircraft and mid- to high-altitude sonic booms (actual and simulated) on nesting peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) and seven other raptors by observing their responses to test stimuli, determining nesting success for the test year, and evaluating site reoccupancy rates for the year following the tests. Frequent and nearby jet aircraft passes: (1) sometimes noticeably alarmed birds, (2) occasionally caused birds to fly from perches or eyries, (3) most often evoked only minimal responses, and (4) were never associated with reproductive failure. Similarly, responses to real and simulated mid- to high-altitude sonic booms were often minimal and never appeared productivity limiting. Eighteen (95%) of 19 nest sites subjected to low-level jet flights and/or simulated sonic booms in 1980 fledged young during that year. Eighteen (95%) of 19 sites disturbed in 1980 were reoccupied by pairs or lone birds of the same species in 1981.
We subjected four pairs of prairie falcons (Falco mexicanus) to low-level aircraft at ad libitum levels during the courtship and incubation phases when adults were most likely to abandon: all four eyries fledged young. From heart rate (HR) data taken via a telemetering egg at another prairie falcon eyrie, we determined that stimulus-induced HR alterations were comparable to rate changes for birds settling to incubate following flight.
While encouraging, our findings cannot be taken as conclusive evidence that jet flights and/or sonic booms will have no long-term negative effects for other raptor species or for other areas. In addition, we did not experiment with totally naive wild adults, rotary-winged aircraft, or low-level sonic booms.