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They come from who-knows-where on strong wings with high, 
keening cries that herald their return and speak of the places 
they've been. 

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 
mating rituals.

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 
year 2000.

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 
Thunder Bay.

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 
Thunder Bay. 

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 
Parks Canada.

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: ecoaction2000@ec.gc.ca. See the 
EcoAction 2000 web site on Environment Canada's Green Lane at