The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

Project Watch-'em

Peregrine Falcons at urban nest sites are very vulnerable during their first few weeks of flight.  Some take off before their flight muscles are fully developed, and end up on the streets below amid busy pedestrian and vehicle traffic, while others learn the hard way that buildings with glass walls need to be avoided.  Project Watch-'em is dedicated to ensuring that help is immediately available for fledgling peregrines when they need it.

Usually Project Watch-'em operates for approximately two weeks at each of the nest sites (longer at sites where birds are being hacked through Project Release).  The watch begins when the chicks are five to six weeks old, and have acquired a full set of flight feathers.  It is the first flight of a chick which is often the most treacherous, therefore the watch is usually started a few days before the chicks are expected to fly, just in case they decide to go early.

Once the watch has started, volunteers are on the scene from dawn to dusk every day for about two weeks, or until the fledglings are demonstrating that they have learned how to fly safely.

Each site has at least one coordinator, who is responsible for organizing the volunteers, and for making decisions about the birds when necessary.  At any given time, one of the coordinators is on scene, as well as several volunteers.  Volunteers are asked to sign up for certain time periods on a schedule, helping the coordinators ensure that there are always enough pairs of eyes available to watch the birds.

All volunteers at each site are in constant communication with each other via walkie-talkies or cell phone / radio units.  This makes it possible to track the birds much more easily, and is invaluable when attempting to coordinate a rescue.

Volunteers position themselves at sites around each nest to watch the activities of the young birds.
(Photo by Mark Nash)

The volunteer watch is a sort of safety net for the fledglings, and in an ideal situation, they never need to take advantage of it.   However, we have learned from experience that at most urban nest sites, at least one of the chicks is likely to require human assistance soon after leaving the nest.

Mark Heaton of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, about to release Windwhistler from the roof of the Mutual Group Centre, the morning after Windwhistler had been rescued from a second floor terrace.   Windwhistler has since established a territory for himself in Midtown Toronto.
(Photo by Marcel Gahbauer)

If a peregrine is injured or comes down to the ground, the situation is assessed by the site coordinator, and an attempt to rescue the bird is made unless doing so will further endanger the bird.  Care must be taken when handling the peregrine in case it has injured itself.  Even if the bird is not injured, rescue may still be necessary.  Some peregrines simply don't have the muscle strength to maintain altitude, and drift to the ground, without ever colliding with anything.  Once they reach the ground, the parents may not feed them anymore, and the young birds will not be able to gather the strength to fly back up to the rooftops.

As a volunteer, you will have a rare opportunity to observe in detail the fascinating behaviour of peregrine falcons, and will meet many other people who share an interest in looking out for the welfare of these birds.  In 2001, the Canadian Peregrine Foundation will be organizing the Fledgling Watches in Toronto, Etobicoke, and possibly additional sites to be announced later.   Please contact us for more information on how you can help at these sites.  

We are looking for sponsors to help us fund Project Watch-'em.  Please contact us if you can help, or know of someone who might be able to.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about Project Watch-'em, please e-mail us.

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Canadian Peregrine Foundation