Rock-a-bye baby: Zion closes popular climbing sites to protect nesting peregrines

Updated March 15, 2018 - 12:11 pm

Zion National Park in Utah is a favorite spring getaway for Southern Nevada’s rock climbing community. But before you head there, be aware there are a few closures and changes in effect the next couple of months.

Some of the most popular climbing routes are temporarily closed since March 1 because of the breeding and nesting of peregrine falcons, a bird of prey. Although peregrine falcons are found on every continent except Antarctica, they were formerly endangered and remain beloved by bird-watchers and Americans in general. Zion is a sanctuary for these birds, and the closures are meant to assure they can breed peacefully. When nesting is disturbed, an avian couple may abandon the site and not nest until next year.

People today love peregrines because of their amazingly fast flying, aerial acrobatics and the grace with which they do both. For the same reasons, peregrines historically have been the birds of choice for falconry, once reserved for the use of royalty.

They eat mostly other birds, and are often trained specifically to catch pest species such as pigeons and starlings, around airports where the latter endanger flights. Nearly always, they take the prey in flight, sometimes in hot pursuit, sometimes with a spectacular dive or “stoop” that knocks the prey out of the air. Peregrines have been timed diving at speeds of more than 200 mph.

These raptors are usually 13-20 inches in length with wingspans between 31-48 inches as adults. The female usually lays three or four eggs, sometimes more, which are then incubated for about 34 days. The females do most of the incubating, depending on the male to supply her with food. When born, the chicks are covered with white down but in five to six weeks they are fully feathered and start flying. Even after the chicks fledge they usually stay with their parents for a few months learning how to survive on their own.

The cliffs that are closed to climbing include Angel’s Landing, Cable Mountain, The Great White Throne, Isaac, The Sentinel,

Mountain of the Sun, North Twin Brother, Tunnel Wall, The East Temple, Mount Spry, The Streaked Wall, Mount Kinesava and Middle Fork of Taylor Creek.

Once park wildlife biologists do a complete check, usually by late April or early May, cliffs that are not found in use for nesting will be reopened for climbing.

Where nesting takes place, the climbing areas will be closed till approximately late July after the chicks have fledged.

Peregrine falcons were listed as an endangered species in 1970 under the Endangered Species Act. The main reason was because of the insecticide DDT, which made the eggs vulnerable and weak so the embryos could not thrive. Once the nation’s ban on DDT came into law in 1972, and along with the captive breeding programs implemented, the peregrine falcons started to recover in North America. The species was taken off the list in 1999.

For more climbing information for a visit to Zion National Park, contact 435-772-3256 or

For in-depth information on peregrine falcons, visit the Peregrine Fund’s web site at

Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books about hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.”