The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

New U.S. legislation could lead to harvest of Ottawa peregrine falcons
January 17, 2007
Jim Donnelly
City Journal: Ottawa's urban newsweekly

New legislation proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department has Canadian bird activists squawking something fierce, and it could even affect the celebrated peregrines that have been nesting each year at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Lyon Street. The legislation, proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, would see an annual American harvest of Canadian-produced peregrine falcons.

The Crown Plaza peregrines have been tended by the Ottawa Field-Naturalists Club. The proposed legislation has the Ottawa group worried, but has outright angered representatives of a national wildlife group.

"I'm infuriated. This is a horrendous slap in the face," said Mark Nash, president of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation in Toronto.

Despite the fact that peregrines were recently downgraded from endangered to threatened by both governments, there are only around 70 documented pairs in Ontario, said Nash, and only one pair in Ottawa.

"Your birds in Ottawa are my birds these are Canadian birds," he continued. "And they want to trap them (for falconry purposes)."

The foundation issued an urgent call last week for the Canadian government to strongly protest the planned legislation south of the border, which would allow an annual harvest of specifically-targeted migratory peregrine falcons in U.S. border states.

Only birds that have been hatched and produced in Ontario, Québec, the Northwest Territories and the Maritimes are to be targeted. U.S.-hatched peregrines are excluded from the legislation.

Eve Ticknor, coordinator of Ottawa's Falcon Watch for the Field-Naturalists' Club, said the new development in the U.S. has her worried about Ottawa's birds. Peregrines began nesting downtown in 1997 and the Field-Naturalists have looked after them ever since.

Peregrine falcons traditionally nest on cliff-sides in the wild. Their population levels crashed in the 1950s and '60s because of widespread DDT pesticide use, but have jumped again in recent years. The falcons have become enamoured with the sheer sides, and relative safety, of skyscrapers in many Canadian urban centres, including Montréal and Toronto.

The falcons, which inspired the design of military machines like the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter, can reach speeds in excess of 300 km/h when stooping (diving).

Much of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists' duties comes during the hatching period, usually in mid-June, when they must watch out for errant chicks tumbling from their nests.

"What we do during Falcon Watch is I put a call out or volunteers and we literally become streetwalkers," Ticknor explained.

They each take three or four hour shifts to watch the nest ledge and rescue very young birds that occasionally plummet to the city streets below.

In Toronto, the falcons have had to be rescued from various perils. Nash said members of the Peregrine Foundation there once had to rescue a bird from the top of a streetcar that traveled 37 blocks before it could be recovered.

"Our record for one bird is six (rescues)," he said. "Six times we had to pull it out of a fan, once an air conditioning intake vent, once a water cooling vent. We've pulled them out of chimneys. We've taken them out of boilers after falling down chimneys."

Nash fears the new U.S. legislation will create a fresh obstacle for a species that was on the brink of extinction a few decades ago.

Ticknor believes the ability of the falcons to survive will depend upon the enforcement of the legislation. "They're supposed to only be able to trap juveniles, and only tagged birds," she said.

Most if not all birds hatched in urban areas are tagged, she added. So, theoretically, the mature Ottawa birds (which have been known to migrate south but don't do so every year) or their offspring wouldn't be in danger.

Ticknor said she believes the peregrine falcon population is probably high enough to sustain this new threat.

It's going to depend on enforcement and on the honesty of those people who are doing the trapping," she said. "It's going to depend on us human beings."

Ottawa's two most famous birds are named Connor and Horizon, although Horizon had to be euthanized last year following a tragic mid-flight accident.

A new female named Diana has come to Ottawa in the last few months, said Ticknor, and has now taken up with Connor.

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