The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

A bird's-eye view, high above the city
Volunteer babysitters keep a close watch over eight nests of peregrine falcons
Wednesday, 29 June 2005
The Globe & Mail

Anthony was just 41 days old when a gust of wind blew him off a ledge just below the roof of the Clarica Centre's east tower at Bloor Street West and Islington Avenue.

Down at street level, shoppers, couriers and commuters were oblivious to the drama unfolding 18 storeys above.

Anthony clung briefly to a window ledge one floor below, then lost his grip. Fortunately, instinct took control and he zoomed across Bloor Street and circled back to flop onto the balcony of a condominium.

Across the street, Linda Woods saw the whole thing through her binoculars.

She couldn't have been happier.

'This is the highlight of the year," says Ms. Woods, the Toronto volunteer co-ordinator for the Canadian Peregrine Foundation.

The first fledge of the spring is the call to action for Ms. Woods and a dedicated band of babysitters who keep an eagle's eye on the GTA's eight peregrine falcon nest sites. Sometimes they watch from dawn to dusk, determined to protect the young members of the endangered species from the perils of life in the big city.

The CPF works closely with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to make sure all the newborn chicks are banded in order to monitor the progress of the species. David Ramsay, Ontario's Minister of Natural Resources, attended a ceremony yesterday at the downtown Toronto Sheraton Centre Hotel where the baby female peregrines -- Sher and Linda (in honour of Ms. Woods's efforts) -- were tagged.

Adult peregrines may be the fastest birds ever clocked, and can snare a pigeon in mid-flight with ease, but juveniles testing their wings for the first time can rival the Keystone Kops with their clumsy antics.

The first urban peregrine nest in Toronto was discovered 10 years ago on a ledge just below the roof at 18 King St. E. Since then, the foundation's volunteers have watched the avian amateurs drop down smokestacks, wedge themselves between tree branches and wander across some of the city's busiest sidewalks and intersections.

"They usually brush a window and flutter to the ground or they just take off and lose altitude," Ms. Woods says. "We've had birds sitting on park benches or landing in someone's backyard."

One enterprising young peregrine even managed to get a free lift to the Distillery District a few years back after dropping on to the roof of an eastbound King streetcar. The CPF fledge-watch squad eventually flagged the car to a stop.

"The driver thought we were loony-tunes," said Mark Nash, who founded the CPF in 1997 and serves as its executive director.

Nesting peregrine falcons disappeared from Ontario in the 1960s because of the widespread use of the pesticide DDT. Efforts to reintroduce the endangered species began in earnest about 25 years ago and there are now more than 60 nests in the province.

While peregrines have usually sought high cliffs in the wild to raises families, Toronto and other major urban centres offered an unbeatable combination when peregrines were reintroduced to the wild from sites across the province and the northeastern United States. Cities have tall buildings with shelter and no shortage of pigeons -- the favourite snack of growing families.

"It's like a supermarket," said Mark Heaton, a biologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources who helps band the downtown peregrines.

The fledge watch at the King Street nest began last weekend and two more are about to start: one at the Sheraton Centre hotel, where two chicks are about to begin testing their aerial acrobatics from the 43rd floor; and in Scarborough, where a nest was discovered last month on a building near the intersection of Eglinton Avenue East and Pharmacy Avenue.

The fifth downtown nest, at Yonge and Eglinton, failed to produce eggs this spring.

- Rob Gilroy / The Globe & Mail

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