Acadia contains many different ecosystems — from freshwater wetlands and coastal tide pools to alpine forests—and rare or endangered plant and animal species. Threats to the park include invasive plant and insect species—purple loosestrife now threatens 20% of the park’s wetlands—and rising sea levels, which harm coastal ecosystems with flooding and saltwater intrusion. There’s a bunch of hackers loose in Acadia National Park. But among ornithologists, hackers are the good guys—the ones who hand-rear chicks and reintroduce them into the wild. At Acadia National Park, those hackers are proud to say that they got peregrine falcons nesting in the wild again for the first time in 35 years.
Acadia is a glacier-chiseled mound of rugged cliffs, picturesque coves, and quiet woods connected by causeway to the coast of Maine—a perfect habitat for these beautiful soaring raptors. But peregrines are endangered these days, due to nest robbing, hunting, and toxic pesticides (even though these are banned in the U.S., peregrines may eat migrant songbirds from countries where the use of DDT is still common). By the mid-1960s, researchers said peregrines were no longer breeding anywhere in the eastern United States.
In response, in 1984 specialists at Acadia started breeding peregrines in captivity in a strictly controlled program to prepare them for the wild. The first 22 chicks were hacked into a cliff face overlooking Jordan Pond each spring from 1984 to 1986. In 1991 the first hacked birds finally bred, nested, and hatched their own chicks, raising them in the cliffs of Champlain Mountain.
Park resource managers monitor peregrines’ comings and goings carefully, so don’t be surprised if trails are temporarily closed to protect mating and nesting spots. Even if the trail’s closed, the Precipice Trail parking area offers prime viewing of their nesting cliff on Champlain Mountain (daily from mid-May to mid-Aug, rangers lead a program describing peregrine activity). During mating, the birds feed each other in midair and show off with elaborate swoops, tumbles, and dives. In April and May, they take turns nest sitting; in June you may spot the tiny white balls of fluff that are baby falcons. In July and August, watch fledgling falcons try out their wings with ever-longer forays from the cliffs.
Your best introduction to Acadia is a circuit on the 20-mile (32km) Park Loop Road, a spectacular drive that follows the island’s rocky shore past picturesque coves, looping back inland along Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake with a detour up Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the East Coast north of Rio de Janeiro . But don’t stop there. Go kayaking around Frenchman’s Bay, populated by seals and osprey; bike around the forested interior on crushed-rock carriageways laid out for Gilded Age tycoons; visit a series of geological formations using a GPS system to track down EarthCache clues; or take a catamaran cruise to the offshore feeding grounds of humpback, finback, minke, and (occasionally) right whales. And never forget to look up in the sky—the peregrines could be there, watching you.