Oh boy, oh boy! Here we are just days away from the 2014 season of "Falcon Fledge Watch"! Season really isn't the word I should use, since the watch window really is only 2 or 3 weeks, depending how things go.
I thought I would go over the watch once again, seems I do this almost every year now since Angie and I have become more involved in our Etobicoke Sunlife nest site.
We are always seeking others to come on down to the site, hang out and help monitor the young birds as they take their first flights. Why do we watch over them, or rather watch from under? Well, the nest is some 20 stories up the east tower of the Etobicoke Sunlife centre (formerly known as the Shipp Centre at Islington and Bloor). The young birds need to build their strength in the first days of flight, and basically figure things out, like what is beyond the nest they spent their first weeks in, and once out in the world, how to get back home where it is safe. Remember, this nest is some 20 stories up.
So in the first days of flight, we watch the young birds, and help them if they get into trouble. And believe me, they can get into trouble. Their first flights, with the lack of strength often have them coming low to the ground. Some find their way back up to the nest, taking short flights, slowly making their way up. Some, not so fortunate, end up on the ground, be it the sidewalk or perhaps out in the middle of Bloor Street. That is where we come into play, or maybe action is a better word, doing our best to quickly retrieve the confused bird before he meets a truck grill as one deadly example.
Young birds sometimes end up on nearby condo balconies. And most people living in these buildings have no clue about these birds nesting in the area, and how a young Falcon may need help getting back home once landing here. We've seen cases where they come down to the balcony floor and look through the clear glass "fencing" that surrounds the balcony. They don't understand how they can see outwards but cannot go anywhere. Another rescue is needed where we communicate with the building management, the condo owner, and retrieve the bird.
These are just a couple examples of why the watch is needed. It's all about helping the Peregrine Falcons. Once a bird on the edge of extinction here in North America, they have come back in good numbers in the last couple decades. They have gone up the list from endangered to species at risk, or special concern.
A bird that normally nests on cliff sides has taken to skyscrapers in the city. Why? A great food supply is my guess. Pigeons everywhere! Although their kills may include European Starlings to local Ducks. One of our watchers witnessed our resident female O'Connor bring home Mallard Duck on more than one occasion through the summer of 2013. You have to agree that Peregrine Falcons do a very good job of population and species control in our cities.
It is estimated that 80% of young Falcons do not survive their first year. The chances of survival rises each year for a bird until they reach adulthood, when then on they hopefully live a long healthy life with all the growing up and learning stuff mostly behind them. So in one season, where I've been a part of 3 separate nest sites, with a total of 10 chicks to help watch over... according to statistics, only 2 of the 10 would live to see the next Spring. I know us participating in these watches surely helps bring up the chances of survival into the next year! Just simple rescues in the first weeks, getting them home again, to try another day, and hopefully learn from the experiences.
Angie and I are entering our 4th season of Falcon fledge watching. It's grown a little each year, but last year was more like a leap and bound with ESL losing it's key senior watcher Frank Butson, aka: Big Frank. He passed away mere weeks before the watch.
With us and many other Falcon watchers at sites across the city having jobs, mortgages, families, etc; it becomes difficult to devote the time needed to look out for these birds. That is where having more eyes to the sky is needed to help. Not everyone works 9 to 5 jobs. The flexibility these days with work hours can bring willing people in any day of the week, any time, from dawn to dusk.
There is no set amount of time required to come to a watch. We ask others to do what they can, when they can. Be it 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, 3, 4, 5, whatever. Even just giving someone else a break to grab a coffee, use the washroom, or just hanging out and offering some company during the slow periods where nothing is happening. Believe me, there are times when there is absolutely nothing going on. But when things start happening, look out. These are wild animals and unpredictable. A young Falcon so high up on a building ledge, flapping his wings, running back and forth.... when is he going to take that first flight? And as we watch, it may go like this... "Oh my goodness, he's right on the edge, he almost went off. Here he comes again! Shit! He stopped himself! Oh no, there he goes!" And away goes one of four young Falcons. Now which way did he go? Did he go around the building, did he make it across to the next building, did he spiral down losing altitude and end up on the concourse? We never know. And having extra sets of eyes on them surely helps.
It's fun but incredibly stressful time with the birds. Some people can't handle it. Especially when you put names to the birds, personalizing them. But for me, as stressed as I am, I take it all in, and love to watch them grow. They develop personalities rather quick and you can see who is who at times without needing visual confirmation of the colored band tape we normally use.
This year we have four chicks.
Sunni who has a yellow band.
Heaton who has a white band.
Pierre who has a blue band.
Skyla who has a red band.
The colors make good for quick spotting. The colors stand out even without binoculars or scopes. And it's easier to remember red, blue, white and yellow instead of the birds' names in the moment.
I fell in love with a green band at Etobicoke Sunlife last year. Her name is Layton. She blew us all away with all she did through the watch and the months after. Here she is playing with her sister Shania high above us. Never in my life prior to this did I believe that young birds might play. Silly of me to think that. It's moments like these that are a real pay off after hours upon hours of not a whole lot going on.
Not convinced, how about Layton doing a food transfer above us with mom?
Or this, Layton playing with her dad Jack. See how much bigger she is than her father? Female birds of prey are always bigger. I think Layton got some real good lessons in flying by chasing her father, and copying his every move.
Jack was awesome, taking Layton back home every time, showing her where and how to land. Once home again, Layton would stay there, almost like realizing she needed to rest after the big work out she just had.
If I may take a moment to talk about the other kids from last year...
Shania, with her red band, freaked me out so many times as she struck the reflective glass of the Sunlife building. There's a big downfall to this site, and a few others in the city... reflective glass. The birds in this young age don't realize that glass is a solid object. To them, it would appear they could fly right through it. And a young Peregrine Falcon, being the fastest animal on the planet in a dive, still can go pretty darn fast flying straight, or trying to make it up to her home being that nest ledge. Shania hit the glass at least 6 times that I witnessed, sometimes spiraling down and out of sight, other times losing altitude momentarily, before getting her bearings straight and saving herself, then flying to a nearby landing spot for a break before trying again.
Unfortunately Angie witnessed one young Falcon 2 years ago hit the glass, break her neck instantly and spiral to her death. Her name was Regatta. I was watching Regatta just hours earlier and she appeared to be doing so well. All it takes is one mistake like this and it can be fatal. It is the mot horrific thing to witness, even with me not being there, I can just imagine. And us watchers can do nothing at this point but watch in horror and then recover the body.
But then we had a similar incident with Lizzie. I made my first rescue with her. And while things didn't look the best for Lizzie in the hours afterwards, she did make a full recovery. She had a lot of catching up to do with her siblings but as far as we could tell, she did fine.
Then there was little "Big Frank". A Falcon named after our fallen friend.
Talk about stress from all those who watched this little guy try and become a self supporting Falcon. Frank was rescued a couple times through the watch. One morning he was found sitting on a set of steps along Bloor Street, reeking of garbage. Lord only knows what kind of trouble he got into after we closed the watch for the night, the evening before.
All four of our chicks survived the summer at ESL and moved on come Fall migration. We hope to have reports of one nesting somewhere in North America in the coming years. My bet is on Layton if her brazen cocky attitude doesn't get the best of her.
Here are just a couple success stories from the watch at ESL that I can think of in this moment.
First, we have Skye. A young male Falcon who happened to be one of the birds we watched our very first year. He was rescued once or twice as a chick and is currently a resident male at the Don Mills nest site... you know, the famous Harlequin nest site. You may have read about it in the Toronto Star through the last couple years. Skye wasn't always the male there though. The former resident male, Kendal, got into some trouble last summer with the wicked storms (so we suspect) and is recovering at The Owl Foundation right now. We hear he's doing very well.
Then there's Windwhistler. A Falcon in our city, who was born at our ESL site many years ago. Windwhistler turns 16 this year! And according to others familiar with his young days, he too was a bird in need of rescue during the fledge watch. But now, here is he is, still the male at 18 King Street in downtown Toronto.... AND with well over 80 Falcons to date that he has called his children! Think about that one for a moment. And one of his sons, Tiago, nests at the Sheraton Centre downtown, mere kms from where he was born. Even with this dual nest sites, it's an incredibly rare thing. How many of you know of Peregrine Falcons nesting less than 2 kms from each other in a city?
These are just a couple of so many success stories out there with the Falcons across North America and the watches from the people.
The Falcon Fledge watch begins this weekend, June 14th 2014. There will be people around most times, doing the best they can, with the time they can give. Keep an eye out for any of us usually at the corner of Bloor and Eagle, directly east of The Longest Yard, sitting on the steps to the Bell building.
There is paid parking all around the area. It's $2.25 an hour to park, Sundays are free up until 1pm. We are mere steps from the Islington TTC subway station. The restaurant options are many along Bloor Street and in the ESL buildings, a variety store is steps away also for various needs. Or just pack your own lunch. There are washrooms in ESL too.
If you have any further questions, you may contact me right here on this blog in the comments section below (I promise to get back to you asap). Or you can email Angie and I at firstname.lastname@example.org
We, and especially the birds, appreciate any time you may give to help watch the kids over the next couple weeks. Even our over protective mom O'Connor does even if she doesn't act like it. LoL!
Just imagine being a part of this and learning of one of these young birds reaching adulthood, having an active and successful nest site somewhere in North America. Wouldn't that be a great feeling, knowing you helped look out for that bird way back when?
Etobicoke Sunlife definitely isn't the only Falcon site in Ontario that seeks others to come assist with the watch, but for the moment, I am only speaking of our local site and it's need starting this weekend. Please consider coming out?
I've been very fortunate to have some upclose moments with the Falcons in recent times, this past winter was my first ever opportunity to share the species with the general public at the Toronto Sportsman Show, talking to others about these amazing birds.
Here's some other links about the PEFAs if interested...
wikipedia, the ROM or how about one of many fantastic YouTube videos seen here or this