T.O. Backyard – Falcon Fledge Watching (not from our yard of course)

posted in: Bird Canada | 7

Hello! Welcome back to Toronto, only this month we won’t be in our backyard but still close to home. The month of June got swallowed up with Peregrine Falcon fledge watching. This is an ordeal I participate in annually. This is something I am quite passionate about. I hope some of you will enjoy what I am sharing today.

Some may ask “what is a Falcon fledge watch?” When young Peregrine Falcons take their first flights, like here in Toronto, it is important that there are people looking out for them. Take my main nest site I help at as the perfect example. See those ledges near the top of this glass office tower? A pair of Peregrine Falcons nest up there. This is in Etobicoke, at the corner of Islington Avenue and Bloor Street. It may not be downtown Toronto but it is a very busy area. The nest is very high up and in many cases, when the young birds take their first flights off that ledge, they slowly get lower and lower, some eventually coming to ground, winding up on the sidewalk or worse, out in traffic. If not for the watchers, these birds would be dead. They lack strength and experience. They simply cannot get back home or even close enough to it, where the adults would come to care for them.

Of course our watches start earlier in the spring with random spot checks at the nest sites. Sometimes we catch the adults in the process of “making babies”. But this blog is about the fledge watch so let’s give this Rexdale pair, Hurricane and Chessie, a bit of privacy.

The Canadian Peregrine Foundation is located in Toronto. They’ve been helping the Falcons for over 2 decades now. A part of the monitoring program is to band the young birds. They try to get to as many nest sites as possible, banding the birds at about 21 days of age. Every bird has it’s own unique banding code for future ID purposes. There’s a lot of debate on the purpose of banding birds but when one of our Toronto Falcons surfaces on territory a couple years later somewhere in North America, that’s the reason all I need right there.

What a cute little killer!

We’ve been blessed over past years by having a web cam pointed to the Etobicoke nest ledge; unfortunately it went down earlier this year and hopefully it will be back up again. It really helps us keep a close eye on the birds. For one, their development.

Here they are 6 days later.

4 days after that. It’s amazing how quickly they develop. The colored tape on their legs helps us quickly ID the birds.

At approximately 45 days, the young take their first flight off the ledge. Within the first 30 minutes of this bird’s flight, he was now about 15 feet above street level.

The birds wander about and explore. It must be a scary ordeal for them especially as they realize they cannot get back to the comforts of home.

They can exhaust themselves and sometimes take a nap wherever they finally settle and feel safe.

As you can see with our Etobicoke nest site, that glass is reflective. Anyone who knows about birds and reflective glass, it can be deadly.

Unfortunately for us, we suffer losses almost yearly. I assure you this beautiful young Falcon is dead.

“Recoveries suck!” is the polite way to put it. Sadly this is another young Falcon I picked up through my years of volunteering at the watches.

To actually witness a Falcon fly into the reflective glass and spiral to the ground is gut wrenching and heart breaking. Being the one to retrieve the body can tear a person apart. It’s not for everyone to participate in a fledge watch and some walk away after such a tragic experience, never to return. We cannot begrudge them for making this decision. Their haunting memories will forever be a voice against reflective glass in the years ahead.

Of course it’s not all death. There are the rescues. Giving a young Falcon a second, sometimes even a third chance. Not every window strike is fatal or even that harmful but we don’t know until we rescue them. Now imagine if no one was there watching over them.

This year a friend and I witnessed quite a window strike by one of the young birds at the Etobicoke site. We thought he was a goner. We watched him hit, we heard the bang and we saw him start to spiral. We were up around a side street because being back some distance from the towers gives us a better of the roof tops and the actual nest ledge since 2 birds still had yet to take their first flights. We run around the corner and out along Bloor Street. Suddenly, what do we see but this young bird standing there on the sidewalk. He’s totally upright and just looking at a small crowd of smokers surrounding him. He’s standing like nothing happened to him, no wing droop or any other signs of injury. Now this is about 8:30 am, it’s morning rush hour. I have about 95% focus on that bird on the other side of 4 lanes of busy traffic. The other 5% is on the cars passing by. I play a game of Frogger with the cars and in a flash, I am across the road, and quickly gathering up the bird in my towel. There was a lot of oooooo’ing and awwwwwwwww’ing at this Falcon. People were trying to take photos of him with their cell phones. With him in my towel, I wasted no time in getting him out of harm’s way and into an animal carrier, then into a utility closet that the building management allow us to use for the birds to have a time out in. The birds do get assessed after a few hours of peace and quiet; then released back up on the roof of the tower if all looks good. They are given that second chance. I am happy to say that particular bird, his name is Aries, is doing fine weeks later and has not needed rescuing since.

Now, as for one of his siblings, welllllllllllll…

Meet Avro. Here he is after his first rescue early one morning.

He had taken flight the day before, I was on site to witness that. Throughout the morning and then into the evening it rained a lot. The evening watchers relayed where the kids were when they closed shop at dark. I knew exactly where Avro was. When I left work at 10 pm, I decided to pass by the site and have a drive around. The rain eased off and I could see him just sitting there abut 15 ft above the sidewalk, preening away. It was too dark to spot the others so I went home. I got to bed about 12:30 am. I had a terrible sleep as I kept thinking about this bird (and the others of course). I got up about 5:20 am, threw myself together, and was back down to the watch before 6 am. I saw no birds for what felt like the longest time, other than their sister Bliss who was still on the nest ledge. I walked around the perimeter of the buildings, looking in every nook and low level spot throughout. Finally as I got back around, there was Avro sitting on the steps outside the newly opened Sobey’s grocery store. What I found comical was there was a person sitting about 6 ft in front of him, they were smoking a cigarette, completely glued to their mobile device and oblivious to what was unfolding here . As I stood near them and assessed the situation, no reaction from this person. Now even as I pulled out my large blue bath towel, they still did not look up and over at me. Wouldn’t your eyes dart to a person next to you by this point? I went in and grabbed this Falcon right behind them. They still never budged. WOW! Avro was fine, just confused and exhausted from his first big day out. He went back to the roof top later that day, reuniting with his family.

A few days later he wound up in a low spot again and long story made short, he was rescued by 2 other watchers as he actually came down onto Bloor Street. Avro was nearly run over by a passing car! He was contained and again later released back to the roof.

Then about 5 or 6 days later a call came into CPF about a Falcon stuck on someone’s balcony. Here is where that tape color came in handy. Blue was the color. We knew it was Avro once again. Oh boy. He was on a 23rd floor balcony. I assume he was sitting on their railing when either he slipped off or the wind blew him off. The glass barriers really confuse the young birds as we’ve had such incidents like this in the past. They can see out and cannot understand why they can’t just fly out.

CPF contacted me, asking if I could help since I live so close. I was down there in about 20 minutes. I get to the condo balcony and can see poor Avro rather frazzled at his current situation. His parents were circling the condo, screeching, as they knew exactly where he was. I thought Avro would be happy to see me, being one of his saviours in the last week, but that was not the case. A little hissing and backing up was all I got. He hopped up to this flower pot, trying to be more eye level with me, and ready to do battle perhaps. I’m only guessing.

Out came the big blue towel again. Funny how it matches his tape color, eh? Then he was contained and had his third time out in the utility closet. As I key this, he’s reported to be doing very well, staying high above the streets and out of trouble.

I wish Avro the best, to be safe and may we never set eyes upon each other until perhaps one day he resurfaces somewhere on territory.

Here is another bird from our nest site a few years back. He also needed rescuing during his first days off the ledge. He was named Ferris. About two years later Ferris was positively ID’d somewhere down in southern Ohio. This is what makes the watch worth it.

A big rescue this year happened during Toronto’s massive Toronto Raptors celebratory parade after they won the championship. This is Bonvoy. It seems he fell off his nest ledge a few days too early. Thankfully a watcher was on site, even with this big party going on, and he was rescued. It will be a big celebration with us if he resurfaces somewhere in a couple years. Photo taken by my friend Tracy Simpson who has taught me a lot about helping the young Falcons over the years.

I know I played up a lot of the both good and bad to a watch but honestly for the most part it is many hours of baking in the heat and humidity, following the shade while keeping the birds in view.; or hiding out from the rain under whatever one can. Basically it’s a lot of just watching paint dry. If you have some company, great, and hopefully you like each other. We have a watcher who actually works in the Etobicoke office tower, so she is a huge asset to the Falcons and joining us out on the street when she can; but she watches the birds all year long and has discovered changes in the adults at the site over the years (something that would most likely be missed until the next nesting season). She is my friend now. A positive to the Falcon watching is making some new friends who share the same passion for wildlife.

Unfortunately at most sites the last few years is a lot of the time is passed alone, a watcher and his/her thoughts. No matter how much time you put in. The Etobicoke site was broken up in shifts, and a few of us did what we could, communicating with the next person coming down and seldom was there a gap of time with no one one. Other sites had one dedicated person spending all day with a site, and even the week. There is some interest from the general public but not a whole lot. It’s disappointing in a city with over 3 million people. I’ve had photographers approach me, talk for a minute, then pass me their phone number or business card, asking me to call them as soon as a juvi Falcon is in great photographing range. Ya, as if! Do the time like us or forget it. I tell people like I was told in my early days, “You do what you can, giving whatever time you can spare. There is no obligation. Hell, even 20 or 30 minutes allowing someone else to dash off to the bathroom or get a drink is appreciated.” I know I used to feel guilty after leaving the watches, no matter if I spent 2 hrs or 5. It’s better than nothing for those young birds in the first days of flying.

Over the years, much thanks to social media, I have had friends from high school come out and join me. I always hope they get to see and encounter something cool as I know my friend Elizabeth did a couple years back; but if nothing else, we have a nice visit and catch up.

For me in my alone time, I people watch when the birds are inactive. Stand in one spot in Toronto long enough and the weirdos show themselves. I once had a guy break out into song with “Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head”. He couldn’t figure out what I was so focused on, which was a young bird just above my head and out of reach. The guy just kept looking at me, then at the wall, back and forth. This went on for over 10 minutes. Suddenly he belted out part of that song, and then danced his way off along the sidewalk. At least that was comical. I’m not a fan of seeing someone peeing in the back alley or parking lot. Those not aware of what we are doing have been known to call the police on us. I guess it’s understandable when a grown man is standing across the road from a condominium with binoculars and a big camera. HA! The police have been great about it, even impressed and thanking us for what we do. We are respectful of peoples’ property and privacy. It’s all for the birds.

I also pay attention to the birds around me. I witnessed mom Falcon lay a beating on an Osprey high over us one day. The poor Osprey wanted nothing more than to pass through, heading north to some lake, but momma Falcon did not care what the reason and aggressively escorted the Osprey out of territory.

A rare moment had me spot a food transfer between an adult and young Falcon. This is part of their training. I’ve heard of this but have only seen it once in 8 years.

There is a Canadian flag atop one of the towers so I wait and try for cool photos like this.

Or just take cute photos of the young birds when I feel it is safe to do so. When I can divert my attention from a serious watch, and have some fun.

Juvenile Falcons are one of my favourite birds to see every year, not just because of my involvement in these watches. Their markings, the coloring, I just love.

One thing I know is to always be watchful where I stand.

I thank anyone who has read this right to the end. I put my heart into this one. It helps I’m fresh off the watch.

You can follow along with the GTA Peregrines through the CPF Facebook page. Another great Peregrine page is this one from Ohio.

Now, if you feel like reading a couple more Falcon blogs of mine at some point, here are a couple links.

My first real time alone at a watch where all the kids fledged within mere hours of each other. http://robandtheanimals.blogspot.com/2014/06/william-osler-falcon-watch.html

You may need the tissues for this one. http://robandtheanimals.blogspot.com/2014/07/pierre-falcon.html

7 Responses

  1. David O’Neill

    So f’in awesome Rob thanks for sharing
    Love your passion for these birds.

  2. Gilda Blackmore

    Thanks for this. I lived in Etobicoke quite near Islington and Bloor, but I didn’t ever see a falcon.

  3. Wendy Leszkowicz

    Rob you are one incredible person. #1 a great blog #2 the photos that went along with it gives everyone an opportunity to see these raptors when they likely never would. #3 Great job well doe to all the watchers.

  4. Herbie

    Thank you for what you do. It’s a “gift” that the falcons choose to make a living among our urban canyons, but the risks are many. Your dedication to their welfare is also a gift, to them and to us.

  5. Gloria

    Thank you for the work you do on behalf of Peregrine falcons. A pleasure to read about the work you and others do and view photos of the falcons.

  6. Sue McCreadie

    Excellent Rob. There is always a story to tell during Fledge Watches.

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