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PEREGRINES AT THUNDER BAY
POSTED ON BEHALF OF ECOACTION 2000, ENVIRONMENT CANADA - ONTARIO
NATURALISTS' PROJECT HELPS KEEP TRACK OF NESTING
They come from who-knows-where on strong wings with high,
keening cries that herald their return and speak of the places
They're peregrine falcons, and at Thunder Bay on a spring evening
just before sunset -- when the light is just right against the
towering cliffs of the Sleeping Giant -- you might see them diving,
rolling and swooping as they begin another season's spectacular
It's hard to say exactly where the peregrines go every winter, or
even if they will come back.
"The word peregrine means wanderer," explains Brian Ratcliff of
the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists. And, an immature falcon may
wander through South America and back before settling down with a
mate around age three.
Ratcliff is co-ordinator of Project Peregrine, a four-year effort to band
and track peregrines that nest in the Thunder Bay area.
The Field Naturalists have been watching the birds since 1989. Since
1996, Environment Canada's Action 21 Community Funding Program has
contributed just over $30,000 to the multi-sponsored effort to
monitor nesting sites and band new chicks.
Over the next two years, Ratcliff hopes to expand the project to other
parts of Northern Ontario where nests have been sighted but there are
no formal monitoring programs. He hopes the greater portion of
Ontario's falcon population will be under the watchful eyes of
naturalists in time for the next nation-wide falcon census in the
Peregrine falcons once ranged throughout North America. Best known
for their compact strength, lightening-fast dives and uncanny ability
pick off quarry in mid-flight, they were all but eliminated from
North America by the use of pesticides, particularly DDT.
DDT was banned from use in North America in the early 1970's. Since
then, breeding and reintroduction programs have brought peregrines
back to many parts of Canada, including some of the cliffs near
There are still only about 25 known falcon nests in Ontario, so every
new one discovered and every new breeding pair is important, says
"With the banding program now in its third year, we have a banded
population that lets us monitor every bird," says Ratcliff.
Virtually all of the nesting pairs making their homes on the cliffs of
Lake Superior have been bred in captivity and introduced to the wild.
Ratcliff and the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists are taking that effort
at reintroduction one step farther.
"Rather than just reintroducing the birds, we are monitoring nests and,
now, actually banding them."
This is no mean achievement considering that peregrine falcons prefer
to nest on ledges high on cliff faces.
To gain access to the nests, the Field Naturalists formed a partnership
with rock climbing instructors at Lakehead University. Meanwhile,
Trans Canada Pipelines donated helicopter time for the once-yearly
flight to identify and count nesting sites.
A typical banding expedition will see a team composed of Ratcliff,
perhaps one or two other naturalists and two rock climbers making
their way to the tops of the cliffs where the birds are nesting.
The climbers will rappel down the cliff face to the nests, load the chicks
into a specially constructed box and bring them back to the top.
Here, Ratcliff can attach numbered bands to the chicks' legs to
identify each bird and tell that it was hatched in the wild at
Meanwhile, below on the bare ledge where the parent falcons have scraped
a shallow nest, a climber will be collecting remains of the falcons'
meals to understand more about the types of prey that keep them
coming back to Thunder Bay.
By 1997, 13 pairs of falcons had set up territories along the Canadian
shore of Lake Superior. Eight pairs were successful in producing a
total of 25 chicks, 23 of which Ratcliff was able to band.
Project Peregrine also relies on the help of volunteer spotters to keep
track of the birds. If you are interested in helping, contact
Ratcliff at the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists' office at
Project Peregrine is one of more than 100 Ontario initiatives that have
received partial funding from the Action 21 Community Funding Program
since its inception in 1995. Recently renamed EcoAction 2000, the
federal government program encourages non-profit organizations to
take environmental action at the local level. To be eligible,
projects must have matching funds or in-kind support, respond to
community needs and have measurable environmental results. Funding
applications are continually being accepted for deadlines that fall
on May 1, October 1 and February 1.
Other partners in Project Peregrine include: Canada Trust Friends of
the Environment Foundation, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources,
Environmental Youth Corps, Community Wildlife Improvement Program,
Mountain Equipment Co-op, Senator Norman M. Paterson Foundation and
To find out more about EcoAction 2000 funding in Ontario and how
your community group can qualify, contact the EcoAction information
line at 1-800-661-7785, or email to: email@example.com. See the
EcoAction 2000 web site on Environment Canada's Green Lane at