1998 Local Activity Reports

by Bev McBride

Peregrine Falcons nested again in downtown Ottawa, for the second year in a row. Chances are it was the same two who nested here last year (see T&L 32:78-79). Ottawa’s Peregrines are one of 18 known nesting pairs in Ontario, and one of six pairs that chose to nest on downtown skyscrapers instead of natural cliffs outside the city.

This year one female and one male hatched. Pippin, the male, was a spunky flier from the beginning. Not once did he require a rescue from the ground. Observers never saw him return to the nest ledge on the 25th floor of the Citadel Ottawa Hotel. As far as we know, he’s still alive.

The female, Jo-Jo, fledged several days after her brother. Unfortunately she died on her first day of flying. She crashed into the 240 Sparks St. building, the same building that foiled Allison, the only chick to hatch last year.

The OFNC’s Birds Committee worked with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) to set up a dawn-to-dusk watch over the young birds. Volunteers took shifts on the ground and on the roof of Constitution Square from June 29th to July 10th. We tracked the movements of the whole family, but stood forever ready in case a fledgling got into trouble and needed to be rescued (see previous article).

Screeching filled the air around the Citadel on June 24th as the parent falcons tried to scare off Bruce Di Labio. He had volunteered to crouch on the nest ledge to distract them while OMNR biologists banded their youngsters. Bruce also took a look at the prey remains on the nest ledge: Spotted Sandpiper, Rock Dove, Black-and-white Warbler, Evening Grosbeak, Purple Martin, House Sparrow, cowbird and flicker.

The Peregrines shared stage that morning with the two children who won the contest to name the chicks. The winners and their classmates attended the “banding brunch” where they watched the whole process on large, live-action video monitors.

Judging by the date the eggs hatched, we expected Pippin to fledge first, around July 4th. A keen team of volunteers filled a schedule beginning two days before that, just to be prudent. Then, young Pippin surprised everyone by taking his first flight late in the morning on June 29th. Maxine and Gordon McLean came to the rescue, inhaled their lunch, and dashed downtown. Many other volunteers took on new shifts at very short notice. The watch was in full swing by supper time.

We dutifully monitored Pippin’s progress over the days (he didn’t really need us) as he visited more and more rooftops in the area, tearing apart the pigeons and other less discernible items of prey his parents brought to him. As his flight feathers grew in he acquired more of an adult-like silhouette and took off on ever-longer tours around town. By July 7th observers saw him receiving prey in airborne exchanges with his parents, or making stunning, aerial dives out over the Ottawa River.

Meanwhile, hoping to prevent another accident like the one that caused Allison’s demise, OMNR biologist Daryl Seip tried to persuade downtown building managers to let him hang streamers on their mirrored buildings to break up the sky’s reflection.

Negotiations were just underway when, on July 3, Jo-Jo decided it was time to fly. After an impressive first flight over to the Delta Hotel, she took off down Sparks St. and into the west side of 240 Sparks about five floors down from the top. Volunteer Bruce Wright, a veterinary graduate student, examined her body and confirmed she most likely died quickly on impact.

Saddened, volunteers continued the watch. Daryl went ahead with his streamer-hanging plans in case Pippin became more reckless as he learned to hunt. In a few days the mirrored sides of the 240 Sparks St. building and the Bank of Canada building were festooned with fluttering orange and pink survey tape streamers. Pippin was still seen in the area into the first week of August. Did our efforts help him survive?

After two years we’re beginning to learn more about monitoring Peregrine fledglings. Still, among the volunteers we have only a little experience retrieving grounded chicks and in dealing with injured birds. We did learn a lot about coordinating volunteers and having a functional observation post. If we’re lucky, we will be able to apply what we’ve learned next summer when, who knows, there could be three or more fledglings to follow! Some had previous experience in Peregrine Falcon release programs or had done other work with falcons. Several people were on permanent emergency call, including the Wild Bird Care Centre and Dr. Dan Rodgers of the Alta Vista Animal Hospital. Management and staff members of the Citadel and Constitution Square were most cooperative throughout the watch.

Volunteers who filled even one four-hour shift made a highly valued contribution. However, almost half of the volunteers put in 16 hours or more. A very devoted group of folks put in 20 or more hours.

Many thanks to Sandy Garland, OFNC webmaster, who with input from volunteers kept an almost-daily update of the Peregrine watch on the Club’s website; and to Dave Smythe and Alan German who prepared information materials for the many curious passers-by.

Peregrine Watch Volunteers (those marked * contributed 20 or more hours)

Ken Allison
Tim Allison
MaryEllen Arsenault
Roseanne Bishop
Bob Bracken*
Richard Brouillet
Louise Campagna
Brenda Carter
Bruce Di Labio
Trish Flimdall
Anne-Marie Fyfe
Angie Fuller
Sandy Garland
Alan German
Carol German
Paul Gully
Jill Hawkins
Lesley Howes
Katie Iwaniw
Krista Iwaniw
Ian Jeffrey*
Ron Jones
Tony Keith
Greg Kelly*
Nancy Kelly
Mary Lou Kingsbury
Warren Kingsbury
Kathy Krywicki
Bernie Ladouceur
André Lavign
Nancy Lavoie
Chris Lewis
Bonnie Mabee
Richard Mabee
Terry Maulsby*
Bev McBride*
Jean McGugan*
Gordon McLean*
Maxine McLean
Greg Money
Stacey Money
Gib Moreau
Kathy Nihei
Frank Pope
Iola Price
Dr. Dan Rodgers
Bev Scott*
Daryl Seip
Colin Selby*
Dave Smythe*
Verna Smythe
Michael Tate
Scott Thompson
Eve Ticknor
Rick Ticknor
Chris Traynor
Nancy Vivian*
Bruce Wright*


1998 Local Activity Reports

More news about Pippin

21 July [from Scott Thompson] — Last Tuesday evening someone on the 18th floor of the Constitution Building reported that they saw the young falcon on a ledge and he appeared to be injured. Later that night, the security crew said they saw him fly away. I went down to monitor the situation on Thursday morning.

I arrived at around 10 a.m. and did not see any of the falcons until about 10:30 a.m. when one of the adults perched above the Elm Printing building on Albert Street east of the Constitution Building.

I did not see Pippin until 11:00 a.m., when he flew in from the south, landed on the roof of 240 Sparks, and a few minutes later perched on the edge of the building. One of the adults circled very high overhead. The young did not appear to have any difficult flying or landing.

Around noon, Pippin flew directly over the Constitution Building, circled the area for several minutes, and made a fair bit of noise at the same time.

He spent the remainder of time I was monitoring perched on the Citadel or on the antenna on Tower C. Rick and Eve, the volunteers who came down to see if the falcon was all right, both agreed that he was fine and had probably just been overheated when he was spotted on the ledge.

The “Watch” winds down

12 July— Now that Pippin is becoming more and more independent, the OFNC-mounted falcon watch is has virtually ended. However, OMNR student employee, Scott Thompson, is keeping an eye on things for a bit longer.

Bev McBride writes, “On the last day of the official observation schedule (Friday) observers could not go on the Constitution Square roof because the door was being repaired. All three birds were absent for long periods of time, so for observers it was a somewhat restless time. It became ever more apparent to us that the was very little we could do anymore in terms of effective intervention in case of mishap. Would we even know where the bird is?

“I hope people will continue to go downtown to look for Pippin. They might be treated to the spectacle of seeing some hunting lessons in progress. One day soon he will leave the area for good. We won’t know what’s become of him unless his band information is recovered in some way. Let’s hope he turns up as the dad in some successful nest site somewhere else.”

9 July [from Bev McBride] — This morning Bernie Ladouceur and I headed downtown for an early morning shift in dense fog. We didn’t see any falcons for several hours — we didn’t see much of anything at all. Then, as the fog began to lift, we had several glimpses of the mother moving at about half her usual altitude. We didn’t see either Pippin or his dad until just before our shift was about to end — when the fog finally cleared for good.

Peregrine Watch is winding down. We’re down to two volunteers per shift now as we move into the last day. But the falcon action is as good as ever. Today all three birds soared in circles for a long time over the heads of our observers. People working in nearby buildings stood by looking up in awe. Jean McGugan reported that Pippin seemed to be flying around constantly!

The youngster was fed several times today. We haven’t seem him hunting on his own yet. Who knows what he’s up to in his lengthy absences, though!

7 July [from Bev McBride] — Pippin amazed and thrilled his watchers today.

Observer Frank Pope witnessed what he’s pretty sure was a successful aerial food transfer from mother to son. Roseanne Bishop reported that Pippin flew way out over the Ottawa River, was soaring beautifully, and performed the first “stoop” or aerial dive that we’ve seen.

Gordon McLean said, “He flew down every street today — Albert St, Sparks St, Queen St, Bank St.” Jean McGugan and crew saw him fly to the west only to stay away for over an hour. Then he flew to the east for another hour-long spell away.

We have decided to make Friday the last formal day of the watch. Observers are certainly encouraged to make informal monitoring visits to the site. Scott Thompson, a summer employee with the Ministry of Natural Resources, will be on location at least part of the day each day for a while after our schedule ends.

While there are still a few days left to go on the schedule, I’d like right now to acknowledge the huge contribution made by the 45 or so volunteers who filled all those monitoring shifts — a total of 644 person-hours! And that doesn’t include the work, often going beyond the call of duty, of the Ministry of Natural Resources; the several people who offered to be permanently on call in case of emergency; Dave Smythe and Alan German who prepared information hand-outs; Sandy Garland who keeps the website; and basic coordination. Thank you, everyone!

Same day, another set of eyes [from Alan German] — The early afternoon passed quietly with the falcons perched on various buildings; however, as the day progressed, Pippin decided to try out his flying skills in earnest, spending considerable time soaring over the river, and downtown’s high-rise buildings, and sweeping his wings back to plunge earthwards in a series of practice dives. Our eye-in-the sky, monitoring the birds from the rooftop of the Constitution Building, observed the female drop prey, which Pippin successfully took on the wing. Obviously, Mom is encouraging her son to think in terms of how to feed himself at some time in the future.

There was considerable activity in the early evening with Pippin taking many short flights around the downtown core, and resting in between these activities by perching in various locations. He currently seems to favour the top of Tower C, either on the communications antenna, or on the rooftop building supporting the antenna. Another favourite spot today was the Radisson Hotel, either on one of the balconies of the upper floors [Does one have to pay extra for a suite with a perching Peregrine?], or on top of the circular restaurant. Patrons dining in the latter no doubt had fine views of a Peregrine Falcon sailing past the window and sweeping up to the roof above.

Pippin couldn’t spend all his time perching as the parent birds were busy catching food. On several occasions, two falcons were in the air at the same time, one adult cruising around, presumably hunting, with a hungry youngster in hot pursuit. Occasionally, the adults’ flights were rather purposeful. They would take off and return fairly soon with some unfortunate prey species. Pippin would then fly from his perch, over to the location of the parent, screaming to be fed. At one point, the male was seen to be tearing apart some sort of blackbird and handing large chunks to the youngster. On another occasion, somewhat later, the male returned with a Spotted Sandpiper which he was unwilling to share — much to Pippin’s chagrin!

6 July [from Bev McBride] — Today, we saw the first attempt of an adult bird to pass prey to Pippin while they were both flying. They didn’t succeed. Better luck tomorrow. Also, for the first time, Pippin was seen to land on a radio tower on top of a building. Earlier only the adults would use them as perches.

As his flight feathers grow in, he’s losing some of his youthful silhouette. He seems ever more sure of himself in flight and it’s getting harder and harder to tell him apart from his parents when they are flying up high.

Yesterday, Pippin took a very long flight. He was missing for over an hour. When the falcons are out of sight, or snoozing, there’s still work for the observers. On Saturday, our rooftop observer came to the rescue of a resident of a nearby apartment building who had locked herself out on her balcony. Falcon watcher Kathy Krywicki saw her, figured out what was wrong, and radioed down to Terry Maulsby who went over to the building to find a security guard.

From the roof of Constitution Square, Bob Bracken today spotted a fourth Peregrine Falcon on the Coates (sp?) Building in Tunney’s Pasture. Others have seen it there in the past week.

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources biologist Daryl Seip and a crew of MNR summer employees worked hard all afternoon today to hang lots of flagging tape streamers and ropes down the Bank of Canada building and 240 Sparks St. That might make travelling a bit safer for Pippin as he learns how to hunt.

We’ve decided we only need three volunteers on a shift now, instead of four. We’re not entirely certain when we will stop monitoring altogether, but it could be this coming weekend.

Last word in from evening observer Chris Lewis: Pippin and his dad had a long game of tag before bedtime. Mom tempted the boys by dangling a lovely, bloody pigeon wing as she flew by, but they didn’t take the bait. Pippin tucked himself in on the 19th floor of the Radisson Hotel.

4 July [from Bev McBride] — Pippin continued to practice flying and manoeuvering today. He’s flying somewhat further afield now, and one time he flew so far to the west that the observer on the roof couldn’t see him anymore. Then he reappeared in one of his customary spots on the Citadel Inn.

He did get a feeding in the morning, and though it’s hard to keep track between the different shifts of observers, it seems he might be getting fewer food deliveries than in his earlier days.

Sometimes when Pippin lands on a building one of the parents will fly directly at him where he sits, almost landing on him. Sometimes he takes off again and the parent stays at the spot. Not sure what that’s all about.

We do notice that the adult birds often fly along the upper walls of Tower C of Place de Ville. They appear to pause at the windows and look at their reflection there. Do they think it’s another bird in their territory? I rather think that by now they know it’s not. It must be very exciting for the people who work in those offices — face to face with a Peregrine Falcon.

While Pippin continues to have successful flights, you can still tell that he’s a youngster. Because his flight feathers are not fully grown, his wings don’t have the sharply pointed look that the adults have. He makes many more rapid, shallow wingbeats than they do. He almost reminds me of a Chimney Swift sometimes, but bigger, of course.

One of Pippin’s bedtime habits has observers bemused. Just at dark, he likes to roost on one of the lower window ledges of the Citadel. Those ledges are barely ledges at all. They are more like concrete slopes that are just short of vertical. Pippin likes to cling to the top of one of these slopes, looking more like a bat than a bird. He would be face to face with anyone who might happen to look out at the bottom of the window. He looks very precarious hanging on there, but that’s often the position observers have to leave him in when they go home after dark. Invariably, the next day he’s found high atop a nearby building.


Good news from London
David Wake of the McIlwraith Field Naturalists (London, Ontario) reports:

London’s Peregrine Watch team officially stopped work as of July 1, although informal monitoring will likely continue for a while. At last report, both young males at the London site were flying well.

3 July, late evening[from Bev McBride] — I expect by now you have heard the bad news that JoJo was killed on her second flight attempt. At about 8:00 a.m. she took flight from the nest ledge to the Delta Hotel. Then at about 10:30 she flew down Sparks Street, covering more than a full block before hitting the 240 Sparks building at about five floors down from the top. The volunteers didn’t find her right away, but when her body was recovered, with the very kind assistance of a Bank of Canada employee, it looked as though she probably died on impact. There was no sign that she spent any time injured but still alive on the ground.

She hit the same building where Allison was killed last year. Maybe by next year we will have figured out some way to break up the reflections on that building. It’s just like a wall of mirrors.


Making buildings “falcon-friendly”
Darryl Seip, the OMNR biologist responsible for the peregrines, has been madly visiting the managers of several downtown office buildings that have lots of glass and reflections. He’s working with them to try to devise ways to break up the reflection in hopes of preventing crashes. Current ideas involve running ropes down the sides of the buildings and tying streamers of flagging tape to them.

So, if you see such contraptions on the sides of the Bank of Canada building and 240 Sparks, for instance, now you know what they’re for.

Meanwhile, everyone is rallying their spirit to continue monitoring Pippin. He continues to fly strongly. It’s most impressive to watch him. We haven’t seen any behaviour suggesting the parents are teaching him how to hunt yet.

3 July [from Bev McBride] — Canada Day passed fairly uneventfully for the falcons. Pippin took his strong, practice flights from rooftop to rooftop. JoJo continued to stay on the next ledge, spending a fair amount of time looking quizzically out over the city. She has been exercising her wings by standing on the ledge and flapping them. This gives all the observers a big thrill. Will she fly now? Will she fly now?

We wondered whether the birds would be disturbed by the flight of the Snowbirds, but they never did pass by. Perhaps they were cancelled because of the rain. The Snowbirds did take one fly-by the day before, however, and a falcon observer on the Constitution Square roof reported that it didn’t seem to perturb the birds.

It did rain incessantly on Canada Day, as everyone no doubt recalls. Pippin sat out in the open on the roof of the Citadel Inn in the pouring rain for hours while both his parents took shelter on the ledge under the overhang right below him.

A small, lucky contingent of observers stayed up on the roof of the Constitution Square building during the Canada Day fireworks. We wanted to see if the display of flashing lights and bangs seemed to disturb the birds in any way. It seemed not to, although we never did see where the parent birds were. Both chicks sat motionless throughout the fireworks.

Many interested Canada Day passers-by stopped to chat, but we didn’t see the throngs of people that we had anticipated.

July 2 passed in about the same way. Among his many flights that day, Pippin took a very long, graceful tour, doing several splendid circles in the air before landing on the top of the Citadel. (Since his first flight, he has not been seen to return to the nest ledge. He has indeed fledged.)

Both chicks continue to get good feeds of what appears to be mostly pigeon.

Occasionally Ring-billed Gulls fly into the falcon territory. It is amazing to see the adults swoop and fly at breakneck speed to chase them away.

Observers continue to try to get good looks at JoJo to see how her flight feathers are developing. She does still have downy chick feathers on her head.

As of Friday, July 3rd at 7:00 am, JoJo was still on the nest ledge exercising her wings.

1 July [from Alan German] — Heavy rain in the early morning of Canada Day evidently depressed Pippin’s spirits. He spent most of the day perched on top of Tower C, generally with one of his parents close by for company.

Meanwhile, his sister continues to be very active. She was seen moving along the entire length of the nesting scrape on the east side of the Citadel Ottawa Hotel. She spent part of the day perched on the very edge of the ledge in the northeast corner, occasionally flapping her wings, and looking rather unsteady in her — for the volunteer watchers below — precarious location.

The parents took flight and delivered food to both young. Feathers, from the prey, were seen to be flying everywhere, so no doubt both youngsters enjoyed their Canada Day feast.


More news from David Wake “on watch” in London Ontario— This morning, we spent a couple of hours on the 23rd floor of One London Place, monitoring flights. Mulder and Freddy X are doing very well. Mulder especially, but of course he is the elder. With the aid of our sophisticated radio/cellphone units, we were in constant communication with the Reads and others on the ground. We would not have been able to be nearly so effective in a time without all this electronic technology!Pete seems to feel that we can stop monitoring after today; these chicks don’t come near the road. They are able to keep returning to tops of high buildings!

30 June [from Bev McBride] — Last night’s final monitoring shift ended with Pippin sitting on a downtown ledge, but not the one where the nest is. This morning we found him on top of a 5-storey building on the southwest corner of Kent and Albert. Soon he took his first flight of the day, covering an impressive distance and gaining altitude — all the way to the Delta Hotel at the northwest corner of Queen and Lyon.

Both chicks were fed at least one meal of pigeon today. We saw the female adult feeding JoJo mouth-to-mouth. Pippin, however, received an air drop to his perch on the Delta.

Although JoJo has been exercising her wings, she hasn’t made any attempt to fly yet.

Pippin made several more flights, eventually ending up very high atop Place de Ville and the Citadel Hotel. By evening, he was flying around quite a bit, pursued by the adult female. We don’t know what was going on. Someone else may have some speculation.


Bad news from David Wake in London, Ontario — “We lost Scully today. She crashed into a window at the Armouries and died. So now we are left with the 2 males. In 1996, we also lost one bird to a window crash – seems that windows are a bigger hazard than the cars below.”

29 June[from Bev McBride] — The young male Peregrine Falcon (now known as Pippin) took his first flight today. In fact, with coaxing from his mother, he made a number of successful airborne excursions, travelling to and from various ledges of downtown buildings. As dark fell, and OFNC’s Peregrine Watchers left for the night, the youngster was still enjoying his new-found freedom, and had not returned to his home ledge.

Meanwhile, back at the nest, the young female (JoJo) is still showing a lot of downy feathers, and needs to develop more flight feathers before she will be ready to leave. Nevertheless, no doubt encouraged by her brother’s exploits, she is running up and down the ledge, flapping her wings excitedly — obviously preparing for her turn to take flight!

With this unexpectedly early flight of the young, OFNC’s volunteer schedule for monitoring the Peregrines has been moved up by several days. If you can volunteer any time to assist on a shift in the dawn to dark watch, please leave a message on the club’s bird status line at 825-1231.

24 June [from Alan German] — Richard O’Beirne, General Manager of the Citadel Hotel, was on hand this morning to personally greet two of his VIP — but non-paying — guests. This was the day that personnel from the Ministry of Natural Resources had chosen to remove the two young Peregrine Falcons from their nest on the 25th floor in order that they could be banded.

Pud Hunter, a raptor expert with MNR, temporarily retrieved the birds from their nesting ledge, and applied the leg bands which will allow the specific individuals to be identified in future years.

The brother and sister also received their “official” names, thanks to a contest for school children. Gareth Thomas and Chelsey Reinburg, both aged 11, were the contest winners. Pippin and JoJo were selected as the names for the two young Peregrines.

24 June [from Alan German] — The nestling Peregrine Falcons in downtown Ottawa will possibly make their first flight attempts in early July. Volunteers are needed to monitor the fledglings prior to this time, as they prepare to take their first airborne excursion from the nesting ledge on the Citadel Inn. In addition, the birds will be monitored for some time after a successful flight, to ensure that they come to no harm.

OFNC members are working with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources on Ottawa’s Peregrine Watch Project. Close monitoring will commence on July 1. If you can volunteer any time to assist on a shift in the dawn to dark watch, please leave a message on the club’s bird status line at 825-1231.

The young Peregrines are to be banded on Wednesday, June 24. This event is to be covered by all the local media, so check your favourite news outlet on Wednesday evening for all the latest details.

Also check reports from the Birds Committee periodically for current information.

3 June [from Gord Pringle] — The Peregrine Falcons which are nesting in downtown have Ottawa have produced three eggs. Two of the birds have now hatched and the third egg is expected to hatch fairly soon. These birds are typically ready to fly at 25 days or thereafter after hatching and that would put them at about 3 weeks from now. Volunteers will be required to track the early flying attempts of these birds and to ensure that no harm comes to them. If anybody would wish to volunteer for these duties, they can leave a message with the bird status line at 825-1231.

April 26 [OFNC Birds Committee status line] — The peregrine falcons seem to be on the Citadel Hotel with some regularity now.

April 17 [OFNC Birds Committee status line] — The peregrine falcon was seen again today in the downtown area, in the region of the Citadel Hotel.

April 11 [OFNC Birds Committee status line] — By way of a note, the peregrine falcons are being seen on the Radisson Hotel again in the downtown area. It is hoped that these birds will nest there this year.

April 7 [OFNC Birds Committee status line] — A peregrine falcon has been reported a couple of times recently, once on the 7th at the Citadel Hotel and on the 3rd.