How did an adult Peregrine Falcon end up inside the OC Transpo garage on Industrial Ave. on the evening of Saturday, June 25? It probably flew in by accident while chasing prey, but we can’t know for sure. What we do know is that it was still there on Monday, and everyone was getting worried.
The raptor had tried repeatedly to get out, flying back and forth across the huge space, but kept crashing into the windows rather than flying lower and out the large open doors. This is hardly surprising, since Peregrines fly high and, like other birds, wouldn’t see transparent glass as an obstacle. Sealed windows and open doors would appear much the same, so if getting through one didn’t work, it wouldn’t consider trying the other instead.
Staff called Safe Wings Ottawa for help, making this the second convergence of the Falcon Watch and Safe Wings in 2016. I gathered the falcon rescue box, gloves, nets and binoculars and drove over to see what might be done to get the bird out of there. I was worried that it was one of the adults from the Data Centre, because they are known to hunt in that area. If so, the chicks that fledged late last week would be minus a parent during a critical period when they need their parents to feed them and teach them to fly and fend for themselves. If the adult didn’t get out of the garage soon, not only was it at risk of injuring or killing itself by colliding with the windows, but its young would be at risk as well.
At the garage, way up high in the rafters, I saw the falcon. It looked like Ivanhoe, the male, and he appeared exhausted and possibly hurt, because he was holding his wings unevenly. He was also being mercilessly harassed by a pair of American Robins protecting their nest. He was keeping to the middle section of the garage, its highest part, which two large doors topped by a huge expanse of windows at one end, and more windows but no doors at the opposite end. There were also smaller windows all along the roof in between. Occasionally, he flew from one rafter to the other, but at least he was stopping short of the windows now.
What to do? I discussed the options with staff: Using a lift to reach him up on the rafters seemed pointless, as he would just move away to another rafter. Opening windows was impossible because they are all sealed units, and covering them up would be difficult because of their size and location. Turning off the lights in the hopes that the open doors would become more apparent was also impossible in a facility that runs 24/7.
I contacted two local bird experts — Bruce di Labio and Marcel Gahbauer. Neither was available to come and help, but both offered helpful advice. It seemed the best way to get the falcon out of there would be to bait it with a pigeon or other prey (preferably live) and trap it with a large net, which seemed like a daunting task.
Meanwhile, though, someone else had called a pest control company, and their guy showed up and decided he would use a laser to scare the falcon from its perch. Not so fast, I said. There was no reason to think that a panicked Ivanhoe would suddenly find the door, and too much risk that it would simply crash into the windows again, except now at a higher speed. Never mind that Peregrines are a protected species, and that flashing a laser at them falls into the category of harassing and harming; no one at that garage wanted to see the falcon badly injured or killed in an effort to free it.
What now? I decided to call Amy MacPherson, a wildlife expert at the City of Ottawa, who not only backed up my position that using a laser was unacceptable, but arranged for the company contracted to chase birds away from the Trail Road landfill to send someone over.
Steph came equipped with live pigeons, a big trap and large nets. We set up the trap near the main door, tethered a pigeon inside (sorry!), and waited for the falcon to react. Ivanhoe showed virtually no interest, which I didn’t find that surprising since Peregrines hunt in midair.
Next, she tried tethering her well-trained Harris’s Hawk in the doorway. No reaction. So she took the hawk outside, which drew Ivanhoe, but he flew into the window rather than through the door. Luckily he did not appear to hit very hard. When she came back inside with the hawk, Ivanhoe appeared to flee from it, so the idea was floated to use the hawk to chase the falcon out the doors. Like the laser, that seemed like a bad idea because he was likely to simply crash into the window again.
Shiwa, a Safe Wings volunteer and very resourceful bird rescuer, came down to the garage and suggested playing a female Peregrine’s call at the door. The cellphone speaker was not audible above the noise of the garage, but he was able to park his car in one of the side doors and play it through the car speakers, hoping to lure the falcon over to that side of the garage, where the doorway was not topped with huge windows. Ivanhoe briefly seemed to react to the sound but didn’t move, and eventually more buses came in and drowned out any sound from the car.
Ivanhoe settled in for the night, so we formulated a plan for the next day: cover the windows above the main doors with tarps and try again to lure/chase the falcon with the hawk without crashing into the windows above. This would require some high-level cooperation from OC Transpo, but it sounded like we might be able to make it work.
Instead, I got a call early in the morning to report that the falcon flew out on its own around 5 or 5:30 a.m. We’re told that he was already perched lower in the garage when one of the workers tried whistling at him, which got his attention, and the raptor soon flew out the doors, perched for a long time on a lamp post outside, then finally flew away!
I checked the Data Centre mid-morning and I’m fairly certain I saw Ivanhoe as well as his mate, Rowena, but only one of the young. Worried that they might have lost one of their chicks, I returned in the evening to find both youngsters on the annex building, one flying very well, the other still a bit rough but getting there.
Ivanhoe, meanwhile, was tucked into the back of a ledge he doesn’t usually go to. He probably needed some peace and quiet after his stressful ordeal!
We wish to thank the staff at OC Transpo for caring so much about Ivanhoe’s wellbeing, Amy at the City of Ottawa for stepping in to help, Steph and Predator Bird Services for trying their best to lure him out of the garage, and Bruce, Marcel and Shiwa for their advice and ideas.
All’s well that ends well!