The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

Thief snatches rare falcon
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

One of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation's most prized birds a rare young falcon was stolen on the weekend by an expert thief.

The locks on the bird's pen were cut Saturday night or Sunday morning by someone "who knew exactly what they were doing," said Linda Woods, a CPF staff member.

The thief broke into the building north of Toronto and, ignoring all the other pens, cut the locks to release only this bird. The obvious knowledge displayed by the thief has led the foundation's staff to conclude that the bird was stolen by or for a falconry aficionado.

"Someone has an interest in her for breeding purposes, I believe," Ms. Woods said yesterday. "A person that is educated in the sport of falconry would be interested in this bird."

The falcon was not quite two years old, and about the size of a pigeon. She was a mottled blue-black, brown and white, with a sharply hooked beak and sometimes baleful glare in her black eyes. She also wore a seamless band with the code GCBF-ON-04/55.

Named Tarah, the bird was part of a subspecies of falcon known as a Peale's peregrine. She was the only such bird the foundation had.

"They're highly treasured," Ms. Woods said, who is worried the thief will keep the bird hidden until her colouring becomes more blue with the appearance of adult feathers, and she gains weight over time.

"All the people that have these birds, they treasure them. They're not a species to be taken lightly. It takes a lot of time and care and training to keep these birds."

Ms. Woods said the bird is probably extremely stressed, disoriented and fearful at being subjected to an unfamiliar environment and handler. It had not been "imprinted" yet the term used for a bird that is accustomed to human contact and therefore likely wouldn't have come to the glove of the intruder if he or she was wearing one, and would probably have struggled and had to be netted.

Ms. Woods said the person, while obviously knowledgeable about birds, may not be aware just how serious a crime they've committed. Besides charges associated with the burglary itself, possession of a bird of prey is strictly regulated.

Owners need to have a specific licence for each such bird they possess, and being found with one they don't have a licence for is a criminal offence. And since Peale's peregrines are on the Species at Risk list, trading or selling one of them is considered even more serious.

"It'd be equivalent to trading ivory or any of these other things that are endangered," Ms. Woods said.

The penalties are extreme enough that there is some concern the thief, if worried about being caught, might unwittingly kill the bird by setting it free. Unaware how to hunt, the bird would weaken quickly and ultimately land somewhere, faint with hunger and needing prompt medical attention.

"Put it in a cat carrier and take it to the zoo," Ms. Woods urged. "Anonymously hand it over to someone who knows what they're doing."

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