The Ottawa Falcon Watch Resumes!

Amber, spreading her wings

For 15 years a pair of Peregrine Falcons have made their home in downtown Ottawa, nesting and raising their young each spring. For the last three years, this pair (nicknamed Connor and Diana) have failed to produce any viable eggs. They last produced offspring in 2009, my first year volunteering with the Falcon Watch, when they laid three eggs, two of which hatched. Both Nihei (the female) and Tailer (the male) fledged successfully, but Nihei was found severely injured in Quebec in September and succumbed to her injuries. Although both were banded, Tailer has not been reported again, and it is hoped he is flying free somewhere in eastern North American, perhaps raising offspring of his own.

On June 13, 2012, Falcon Watch coordinators Chris and Anouk advised that one of the birds (most likely Connor) had not been seen in several weeks. They had not seen more than one falcon at a time at the nest site in over a month, and had received no reports of both birds together since at least early May. It is likely that Diana has been incubating the eggs alone, and has been forced to leave them unattended to go hunting. While this alone would have affected the eggs’ viability, Chris and Anouk also believe that Connor’s age — he is at least 15 years old — has also played a part in the lack of a successful hatch for three consecutive years. Given his advanced age, it is likely that he has perished.

One day after receiving this sad news, we received much happier news: another Peregrine Falcon nest had been discovered in the Billings Bridge area, and had two chicks about to fledge! Apparently this pair had already nested there successfully the previous year, but this year a third chick had fallen to its death before it was old enough to fly. After conferring with building management, it was official: the Ottawa Falcon Watch was back on!

Rowena, the female adult Peregrine Falcon

The Ottawa Peregrine Falcon Watch is a volunteer initiative of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club. The OFNC was initially approached by the Ministry of Natural Resources in 1997, when the first falcon nest was discovered downtown, to monitor these endangered birds, especially during the critical fledging period. Since then, the Falcon Watch has been dedicated to protecting the falcons breeding in Ottawa by monitoring their nests, observing the fledgling chicks as they learn to fly, and assisting the young birds, if need be. Young Peregrines often end up on the street, sidewalk, balconies or other dangerous areas as they learn to fly, or become stranded and unable to return to the nest. They may also crash into the windows of one of the many highrise buildings surrounding the downtown nest site and fall to the ground. Their survival depends on the Falcon Watch volunteers, who rescue them if necessary, and return them to the safety of the nest area or take them for medical attention.

The Billings Bridge nest site is much less dangerous for young peregrines learning to fly than the site downtown. Located on a 10-storey building on Heron Road, there are no other tall buildings in the immediate vicinity, and only two busy roads close by. The grounds immediately surrounding the building are a mix of grass and parking lots, which is much safer for the falcons (and the volunteers chasing after them!) than the busy Albert, Kent and Queen Streets with their buses, taxis and rush-hour traffic!

The Falcon Watch has named the Heron Road adults Ivanhoe and Rowena. Neither of these Peregrine Falcons are banded, but both appear young. Although most of Connor’s offspring have been banded, there is a remote chance that Rowena and/or Ivanhoe are directly descended from Connor and one of his two mates (Horizon from 1997-2005, and Diana from 2006-present)…if not Connor’s offspring, then perhaps his offspring’s offspring!

Ivanhoe, the male adult Peregrine Falcon

I volunteered for two shifts with the Falcon Watch. Both days were hot and humid. On my first shift, Sunday, the young male chick named Data had already fledged; by my second shift on Tuesday the female, Amber, had fledged. Females are usually heavier than males and often take their first flight a few days later; this happened with Tailer and Nihei in 2009. Data quickly became an agile flyer, and by my second shift had discovered the power of his wings by soaring higher and higher into the sky for a good three minutes. It took Amber a little longer to become comfortable with her wings, but she was nothing if not persistent!

It took the two young falcons longer to learn how to land exactly where they wanted to. Both chicks had trouble returning to the nest ledge below the roof after a flight and often landed on the roof instead. During my Tuesday shift Amber practiced landing on the security cameras instead of the roof. She landed on the one on the southwest corner, then tried to land on the camera on the southeast corner; she missed and flew around to the roof on the west side instead.

Amber, the female Peregrine Falcon chick

Both parents stay nearby during the fledging period. They continue to bring the chicks food, although they may withhold it in order to entice the chicks to fly, or drop it while flying to test their ability to catch it in mid-air. One of the adults left some food on top of the roof on Sunday, which Data quickly discovered; we watched the feathers fly as he plucked the bird clean in order to eat it.

Fortunately, there were no rescues, although Amber gave the Falcon Watch volunteers a scare when they discovered her in a tree next to Bronson Avenue on their morning shift. Bronson is a wide, busy road with a posted speed of 80 km/h (you can safely add another 15 km/h to this in order to determine the average speed of most drivers). The volunteers were debating whether she needed rescuing when Amber launched herself into the air and flew back to the building after witnessing a food drop onto the roof.

By the end of the week it was apparent that the two chicks were doing very well, and that the Falcon Watch’s continuous presence was unlikely to make an immediate difference in their safety. As a result, the 2012 Falcon Watch wrapped up after only nine days.

It’s fun watching these magnificent birds interacting with one another and learning how to fly, if a little nerve-racking at times when the young chicks disappear from view. Amber and Data will likely stay close to the nest site until the end of the summer, when they will migrate south; Ivanhoe and Rowena will likely remain for the winter and nest again next year. Perhaps, if Diana finds a new mate next spring, we will have two Falcon Watch sites next year!


For more information about the Falcon Watch, including the full history of the downtown birds and the daily reports from the 2012 watch, please visit falconwatch.ca.


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7 thoughts on “The Ottawa Falcon Watch Resumes!

    • I would love to visit Texas during the spring migration. I think that High Island in April is comparable to Point Pelee in May, but with lots more species! Plus, you probably have all sorts of insects and other wildlife that we don’t. 🙂

  1. Pingback: Highlights from 2012 | The Pathless Wood

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