This year is not starting out the way we would have ever wanted. Today we had to say a final goodbye to our indomitable Princess.
On the evening of November 29th, Princess was found injured on the ground near a warehouse just north of downtown Winnipeg. The gentleman who found her didn’t know that she was a peregrine and of course had no idea who she was and her importance in the history of peregrines in Manitoba. Nonetheless he took great pains to catch her without causing her additional harm and kept her safe overnight. The next morning, he and a friend got her to Wildlife Haven where of course, they recognized her at once and contacted me.
Unlike her previous time in care, this time Princess did have some injuries – an abrasion above one eye and some head/eye trauma. This is the kind of injury a peregrine gets after a glancing collision with something – a building, a vehicle, etc. Given that she was still here long past the time every other peregrine had migrated, we could rule out her being hit by an overzealous resident bird which was something we considered in the summer. So perhaps she zigged when she should have zagged hunting for pigeons. At that time of the year, pigeons are pretty much the only prey available to her and they are quick birds. It’s a decent theory – a hunting flight late in the day, a zig, a zag, a corner taken too tight or too fast for an older bird and then non-lethal contact with something tougher than her. Upon examination at Wildlife Haven, this theory seemed even more plausible. She wasn’t underweight or dehydrated and she didn’t appear to have any other injuries. All signs that she could recover with a little bit of time, care and quiet. Now all we could do was wait and see how her recovery went.
Like most peregrines, Princess didn’t like being in care so she was eventually moved to a more private enclosure when her condition stabilized. The head trauma appeared to be healing and she was eating well, but she wasn’t flying up to the perches which is where she’d feel most comfortable and safe. Peregrines are stressed when they are grounded so up is always better. No injuries to her wings or legs had been found on her earlier exams, so the staff at Haven made sure she had lower perches she could hop up on in the hope that it all she needed was a bit of time. Days passed and she was hopping up on the lower perches less and less which concerned Haven’s staff so another exam was needed. Because there was still no obvious problems with her wings, they decided to take some xrays, something that hadn’t been needed during her earlier exams. Xrays require sedation and on an older bird, it isn’t something that is done unless necessary. They confirmed that there was no structural damage to her wings or legs or in fact, anything, so no answer why she was showing less interest in perching. What it did reveal was that at some time in her long life, Princess had been shot. The xrays clearly showed two pellets – one in her “armpit” and other in one leg. Neither appeared to have caused any damage to nearby structures, just two distinct dots on her images. More evidence of the tough life peregrines live, even ones as savvy, successful and long-lived as Princess. Why Princess wasn’t improving was still a mystery. An increasingly concerning mystery.
Since her biggest physical complaint appeared to be old age, talk turned to perhaps finding her a place where she could retire where with the space and care she deserved for however long she lived. But we had to be sure that her quality of life would not be diminished by our efforts on her behalf, otherwise a more difficult decision would have to be considered. Christmas and New Years came and went, and Princess’ lack of improvement continued to be a concern. She no longer hopped up on the low perches so Haven staff had constructed graduated “steps” so could get a bit higher if she wished. A few days ago, she was examined again and there had been no improvement – it looked like Time was catching up with her. And so today, we had to make the very difficult decision to say goodbye to our grand old lady.
My relationship with Princess has for 18 years been intensely intimate, occasionally adversarial, often frustrating but always, always, filled with awe and admiration. For 30 years I have lived with our wild peregrines. I know their stories, the soaring and the sorrowful. And most of those years have been with Princess. It has been an odd friendship, albeit a one-side one, but there really is no other way to describe it. And I don’t know how to describe her and the part of her life that she shared with me, and to a degree, with thousands of others via the FalconCam. There are too many moments, too many stories, too many lessons learned. I haven’t the words to say how it felt to sit nearby as she napped in the spring sun or my envy as she soared effortless overhead or the sadness when even she couldn’t protect her small family. So perhaps we start with where she started …
Princess arrived in Winnipeg in the spring of 2004 with Trey, our then resident male at the Radisson Hotel. His previous mate, Madame, had held the territory since 1992 but their nesting successes had been relatively few. He hadn’t returned in 2003 but when he did, bright and early in 2004, with Princess, they quickly and firmly pushed Madame out of the Radisson territory. It took awhile to finally read Princess’ legband but when we did we found that she, like her predecessors at the Radisson, Maud and Madame, had hatched south of the border. In fact, Princess’ natal site, Xcel Energy’s Riverside Power Plant in Minneapolis, is just 5km (3 miles) north of the 33 South Sixth (formerly the Multifoods Tower) where our first Radisson female, Maud, hatched. Princess’ parents were Lightning from the Sherco Power Plant in Becker (60km northwest of Riverside) and Marie from the Monticello Power Plant (10km south of Becker), both also in Minnesota.
Madame was 15 years old when the two-year-old Princess arrived in town. For all of her lack of success with Trey (only two of her 26 chicks were his), Madame’s maternal instincts and skills were excellent. As a result, Princess’ first year was nerve-wracking for us as we watched the first-time mom day after day. But we need not have worried, she was one of those peregrines who looks like she has raising young for years. Having an experienced mate like Trey certainly helped. The eight-year-old Trey had learned from Madame and Princess learned from him. In their first year together, Princess and Trey laid four eggs, three of which hatched. When the chicks were banded, the one male and two females were all smaller than we were used to. We wondered if this was because she was a young mother but no, this would be one of the defining traits of Trey’s and Princess’ young. We knew Trey was on the smaller side when we banded him in 1996, but it wasn’t until Princess was in care this summer that we see how small Princess was for a female. Until her time in care, the closest we had ever gotten to her was when she perched above us at the Radisson ready to drive us away from her chicks. Her dominant, protective attitude and her personal charisma made her seem much larger than she apparently was – and not only to us. Pretenders to her throne were many but she rarely had to fight to defend her right to the Radisson nestsite, her mere presence was enough to send others scurrying back to the respective territories. We didn’t generally name the chicks, but this year, one chick was impossible to track except when she sat on a perch in the back lane behind the hotel. Her band number seemed to suggest a name, so we named all the chicks based on their band numbers: Guy, Infinity and Alley. Alley would go on to be the resident female at the State Capital in Lincoln, Nebraska for 16 years and raise 23 young.
In 2005, Princess and Trey raised three more chicks – two males, Finity and Ivy, and one female, Lucy. Ivy was named because he was a fourth generation Radisson male – Pop, T-Rex, Trey and Ivy (IV). Sometimes you just have to name a bird in the hopes that s/he will return. And return he did. First to the West Winnipeg territory for three years and then the Radisson for four and he helped raise a total of 14 chicks. His sister Lucy too returned to nest but her nestsite was poorly chosen, her eggs were damaged before hatching.
Another three chicks followed in 2006, this time not in the safety of the westside nestbox but rather on the east-side nestledge. There were two males, the Little Daredevil who died a day after fledging, and Bandit who crash landed nearby. He wasn’t seriously injured and we were able to release him from the rooftop nestbox a couple of days later. The lone female, named Radisson, fledged without difficulty and survived to return to Canada a few years later to become the resident female at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
My latest reports are she was back in 2021 and I’m still trying to confirm how many young she has had over her 14 years in Edmonton, but it is likely more than 20 chicks. When down south, Radisson favours the Drury Plaza Hotel in San Antonio, Texas and a couple of years she’s been sighted hanging out with Triumph, a young male from Minneapolis. What is it about Manitoba and Minneapolis birds?
2007 was the year of the Elie Tornado though we had no idea it would hit on the day we banded the chicks. It had been a particularly windy year and we were very glad that Princess and Trey had chosen the nestbox so we were thinking that naming the chicks after winds would be appropriate. There were again four eggs, but one was smaller than the others so we assumed only three would hatch. We were wrong and all four eggs hatched though not surprisingly, the smallest egg produced the smallest chick, a very very small chick. There was lots of concern on the FalconCam that the smallest chick wouldn’t be able to compete against its much larger siblings. We shouldn’t have worried, the chicks didn’t compete with one another and the smallest chick was no shy and retiring little peregrine. They grew quickly and just before banding, one chick “fell” from the nestbox. Why the quotation marks? Because peregrines have evolved to nest on ledges and except for a bump from a sibling or adult or bad weather or some other external agent, chicks don’t “fall” from nestboxes. This chick had toppled right out of the box with no help or interference from its nestmates. When we banded the other three chicks, we found nothing concerning with their health and the smallest chick was quickly catching up to its siblings. Based on their leg sizes, we had two males and surprisingly, the smallest chick was the lone female.
We named the chicks Hurricane, Chinook and Mistral. A necropsy on the chick that died showed that the chick was in excellent health, well-formed and well-fed with no infections, toxins or parasites. So, what happened? The chick had suffered some sort of cerebral event that affected her sense of balance which is why when she tried to walk that day, she staggered and tumbled over the edge of the box. Apparently she likely would have died within a couple of days had she not tumbled. Her quick death might have been a mercy, the alternative might have been much more painful/frightening for the chick as the damage to her brain continued. We named her Taku. Mistral and Chinook both crash-landed after fledging but weren’t injured and were returned to the nestbox and fledged again with no further incidents. Hurricane was the only chick that fledged without a problem, but she had a bit of an identity crisis. When we banded the chicks Hurricane was so small that we could only band her safely with a male band, so we assumed male peregrine. Imagine our surprise when she turned up in Brandon and we quickly realized that “he” was a “she”. For the next 11 years, Hurricane had four mates and raised 28 chicks. Ella, the current Radisson female, is one of Hurricane’s offspring.
Our saddest year was 2008 when Princess chose to nest on the east side nestledge again and all three of her week-old chicks died in a storm that dropped 35mm of rain before 10am with another 70mm expected before the end of the day. The nestledge has two failings: 1) it has no protection from the rain and 2) we can’t access it to install/maintain a nestbox. These weren’t the first eggs/chicks we have lost on this ledge over the years, but they were Princess’ first lost nest. We did try to get Princess and Trey to adopt/foster two captive-bred chicks, but with no success and the chicks returned to Alberta.
Despite their tragedy, Princess and Trey returned to the nestledge in 2009. Fortunately for all of the peregrines’ fans (including us), this year was very different. When we’d found they’d starting laying eggs on the ledge, we managed to get high angle experts to help us get up on to the ledge and install what we called a “tuppernest” – a plastic box with pea gravel – under the eggs before they hatched. The tuppernest we hoped would raise the chicks up high enough so that if it rained again, they would be safe from any water that might pool on the ledge. Three chicks hatched a day later and not a drop of rain fell to dampen their feathered little heads. The Project managed to fund a second trip up to the ledge to band the chicks – two males and one female. We named them Tupper (from tuppernest), Ty (from Tylenol because of all the headaches they caused) and Vesper. These three kept us on our toes, especially when Ty figured out how to grab hold of the pebbled surface of the Radisson’s walls and climb back up to the nestledge! That kind of ingenuity and stubbornness should have been a clue that that wouldn’t be the last time we saw him. Ty returned in 2012 to nest in Selkirk before he moved to the West Winnipeg territory in 2015. He raised 18 chicks in his eight years nesting in Manitoba. Vesper crash-landed not long after fledging and some kind folks kept her from wandering into traffic until we arrived. Unfortunately on January 18th, 2011, she was at the San Antonio International Airport, minding her own business and staying out of the way of airport/aircraft operations when the jet wash from a departing plane picked her up and threw her to the ground, killing her on impact.
2010 brought changes at the Radisson. A new mate for Princess and four chicks that all survived to fledge successfully. Which surprised some folks, including some very knowledgeable experts we consulted. Princess’ mate this year was her son Ivy. The immediate response was to assume this relationship was going to have a few problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ivy and Princess were a great pair. She continued her stellar work as a resident female, mate and mother and Ivy was an attentive mate, an avenging angel and a hunting machine. It was remarkable to watch Ivy make two, three sometimes four deliveries at mealtimes. His chicks grew like weeds and his mate didn’t lack for food. One of my fondest memories is of Ivy trying to tempt his offspring with more food and them burping in his face and waddling away to fall face-first into food comas. Not once, but over and over again. Peregrine chicks require a lot of food and there is almost never enough for all the chicks at every meal. Not a problem this year. The well-fed chicks had equally well-fed egos so we decided to name them after deities. There were two males, Thor and Loki, and two females, Aura and Isis. Isis had a wee bit of trouble when she fledged but after a brief stint in care she was ready to rejoin her nestmates. She was very ungrateful for our assistance so we joked that Isis was too beautiful a name for her, so we hyphenated her name and she became Isis-Kali: Isis the mother of the Egyptian falcon headed god Horus, and Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. Of the four of them, Loki is the only one we know to have returned, he held the Frog Plain territory for four years with Spencer, one of Hurricane’s daughters.
Ivy and Princess continued together at the Radisson in 2011 and again they had four healthy, rambunctious chicks – Carson, Cade, Fyfe and Beatrix who of whom provided more than a little excitement before they departed the City. When the chicks fledged, Cade was the only chick that didn’t run into trouble and when his siblings did, he stuck close at the Hotel awaiting their return. Fyfe unfortunately died between the Radisson and the Manitoba Hydro Building a day after he fledged, an unfortunate, but not uncommon death for a fledgling. Carson had a similar encounter with the Hydro Building itself and ended up in care for a short while. Not to be left out, Beatrix outdid her brothers by getting herself trapped in the unused Eaton’s smokestack. Never had three siblings independently run into trouble within one city block. Beatrix was lucky, there were some servicemen doing work in the basement and they had propped open a door for ventilation so were able to hear her as she flapped around at the base of the stack. If not, she’d not have escaped on her own and we’d have had no idea where to look for her. It was an unique experience to crawl into a smokestack and come face-to-face with a very (very) annoyed and frustrated Beatrix. To exit, I had to tuck her under my arm like a football which didn’t endear me to her. The staff at Wildlife Haven checked her out and as she was uninjured and her brother Carson was ready to be released, we took them both back to the Hotel to release together. Their brother Cade was waiting for them on the wall above the nestbox. The three of them were quickly back up in the air and managed to avoid any further trouble. Three years later, Beatrix was back in town as the resident female at West Winnipeg. She raised 6 chicks in two years and then just before she was to return to Manitoba in the spring, she was caught in a hailstorm in Houston-Fort Worth and went to a local rehab. She acquired bumblefoot while she was there. After months of multi-jurisdictional wrangling we go her back up to Manitoba and into care with Prairie Wildlife Rehab. Unfortunately, she never could shake the bumblefoot infections and after a year of aggressive treatment, she too had to be euthanized. Of all of the Princess’ female offspring, Beatrix was the most like her – it would have been wonderful to see how much like her mother she could have become.
2012 was much less exciting for us and the peregrines. Princess and Ivy again produced four chicks – three males and one female. The males were McDermot, Fleet, Hart and the lone female was Jubilee – all in recognition of famous anniversaries – Fleet and Hart after survivors of the Titanic on it’s 100th anniversary, McDermot in recognition of 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Selkirk Settlers and Jubilee in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. McDermot had a soft crash-landing at the Air Canada Building and because he was uninjured we were able to include him in a PhD project. He was was fitted with a satellite transmitter before he was released in order to track his movement on migration. His transmitter stopped working (it happens a lot) and it was presumed by the researcher that he died in Mexico. Hart returned in 2014 and quickly became the resident male at Logan with Jolicoeur. They made an excellent pair and raised 16 chicks together – one of whom is Pip, the current resident male at the Radisson and his sister Jennifer is the resident female at the Selkirk Hydro Station. Hart had another four chicks with Hurricane’s daughter (and Ella’s sister), Spencer, and two more in 2021 with his current mate Esme.
In 2013, Princess convinced Ivy to relocate to the nestledge. And just as the first chick hatched the heavens opened up and it looked like Princess might lose another family. Fortunately, the storm was as bad as we feared, but it did last all day and Princess refused to get off her chick and eggs until the rain stopped. She kept her eggs safe but without food for 24 hours the chick didn’t survive. The next day, the two eggs hatched and the chicks thrived on the ledge under Princess’ care and Ivy’s overzealous food deliveries. The weather didn’t allow us to safely access the ledge to band the chicks but we did give them names – Tenzing for the male and Hillary for the female as 2013 was the 60th anniversary of the first assent of Mount Everest and ironically the first time in our history that we were unable to “climb up” to band chicks at the Radisson.
Ivy didn’t return in the spring of 2014 but Princess eventually accepted the advances of Smiley from Grand Forks, North Dakota. Smiley was the cross-border offspring of a Brandon-hatched female named Terminator and a male from the nestsite in Fargo, North Dakota. A beautiful bird was Smiley but his nestbox etiquette was atrocious and he was a haphazard food provider. Princess more than a few times left the kids in their father’s surprisingly good care so that she could hunt for herself and them – not something she had to do with any of her other mates. They had two female chicks, Vimy and Chapelle, named in remembrance of the start of the First World War.
In 2015, Princess tried her luck on the nestledge again but unfortunately her luck didn’t hold. There was a heavy storm about a week before the eggs were due to hatch and the nest was lost. Princess has never attempted to re-nest in all her years in Winnipeg and this year was no exception. While it was sad to lose the eggs, at 13 it was hard to begrudge Princess a summer of napping, noshing and doing nothing much.
Princess and Smiley had an entirely different experience in 2016 when they returned to the westside nestbox. All three of their chicks hatched, were banded and fledged without so much as hint of trouble – which might be a record for the Radisson. There was one male chick (Dixon) and two female (Nellie and Cora) and since they migrated, we have not received any sightings or nesting reports on any of them.
2017 brought a new mate to Princess. Unlike Smiley, it was a Manitoba male. Pip is the offspring of Hart and Jolicoeur, a female from Fargo, North Dakota and aunt to Smiley. That makes him Princess’ grandson. Connections, connections, connections. It was a piece of good fortune that Pip started his breeding life with Princess, she was able to teach him and he was a very good student. He even looks a lot like his great-grandfather Trey. Princess and Pip had three chicks, a male, Porter, and two females, Purdie and Pippy. We couldn’t resist the urge find names that started with P as an homage to their parents. These would be the last chicks Princess raised. Pippy and Purdie managed to stay out of trouble but their little brother Porter had not one but two groundings immediately after fledging. No damage done, except to his rescuers. We haven’t had any reports of Pippy or Purdie, but Porter returned to Winnipeg in 2018 and then again in 2020 when unfortunately he collided with something (bird or building or both) and died. Ironically, he died not far from his first two groundings.
2018 was a quiet year for Princess and Pip and their last year together. They built lovely scrapes in the nestbox and ignored the nestledge. They courted and bowed to each other but in the end, no eggs. They settled into a comfortable routine of napping and preening, hunting and napping. It was a very hot, humid nesting season so it was hard not to be glad Princess didn’t have eggs/chicks to care for under those conditions. They remained together and held the Radisson together through the summer, leaving in late October.
We did wonder if we would see Princess again.
And we did.
Her first visit this year was a wonderful surprise with a happy ending. Her second we hoped would be an opportunity for us to give back in some small way for all her years of devotion and sacrifice. Her contribution to the peregrine population cannot be understated. Her legacy can be found in all her children, grandchildren and their descendants thriving across Manitoba, the Canadian Prairies and the US Midwest.
A grand old lady indeed. Goodbye my friend.
Things to know about Princess
name: Princess (2002-2022) – 19 years, 7 months, 24 days old
parents: Lightning (Becker Minnesota 1998) & Marie (Monticello Minnesota 1996)
hatch site: NSP Riverside (now Xcel Riverside) in Minneapolis, Minnesota
nest site: Radisson Hotel, downtown Winnipeg 2004-2018
mates: Trey (Radisson 1996) 2004-09, Ivy (Radisson 2005) 2010-13, Smiley (Grand Forks 2009) 2014-16 and Pip (Logan 2014) 2017-18.
children: 39 chicks + 4 chicks that died before banding = 20 daughters, 19 sons
–> with Trey = Guy, Infinity & Alley (Nebraska); Finity, Ivy (West Winnipeg & Radisson), Lucy (West Winnipeg); Little Daredevil, Bandit & Radisson (Alberta); Chinook, Hurricane (McKenzie Seeds), Taku & Mistral; The Lost Chicks; Tupper, Ty (Selkirk & West Winnipeg) & Vesper.
–> with Ivy = Thor, Loki (Frog Plain), Aura & Isis-Kali; Carson, Cade, Fyfe & Beatrix (West Winnipeg); McDermot, Fleet, Hart (Logan & West Winnipeg) & Jubilee; Tenzing & Hillary.
–> with Smiley = Vimy & Chappelle; Dixon, Nellie & Cora.
–> with Pip = Porter, Purdie & Pippy.
known grandchildren: at least 117
Alley (Nebraska) = 23 chicks + 6 that died before banding (14 males / 9 females)
–> with 19/K – Pioneer; Sterling, Willa & Bess; Boreas (Kansas), Zephryus, Notus & Eurus; Platte, Calamus, Nemaha (Kansas) & Niobrara; Alnilam, Alnitak & Mintaka (Nebraska); Lincoln; Lewis & Clarke (Nebraska); Cottonwood, Meadowlark & Goldenrod; Orozco; Dinan.
Ivy (Radisson) = 14 chicks *
–> with Lucy – no chicks survived.
–> with Princess Thor, Loki (Frog Plain), Aura & Isis-Kali; Carson, Cade, Fyfe & Beatrix (West Winnipeg); Hart (Logan & West Winnipeg), Fleet, McDermot & Jubilee; Tenzing & Hillary.
Radisson (Alberta) = at least 20 chicks, total number is being investigated
Hurricane (McKenzie Seeds) = 28 chicks (14 males / 11 females)
–> with Zeus – Fate, Luck, Karma & Kismet.
–> with Brooklyn – Mac & Kenzie; Rain & Rosser; Maya, Sol (McKenzie Seeds) & Hunter; Spencer (Frog Plain, Logan), Bogart (Saskatchewan) & Kelly; Frankie, George & Lindy;
Armstrong, Ellington, Ella (Radisson) & Nina.
–> with Sol – Calvin & Hobbes; Missy.
–> with Wingo Starr – Paden & 3 unnamed chicks.
Ty (Selkirk & West Winnipeg) = 20 chicks (8 males / 9 females)
–> with Paris – Daer, Selkirk & Skye; one unnamed chick; 3 unnamed chicks.
–> with Beatrix – Tiggy & Tuppence.
–> with Faith – Oberon, Puck & Titania; Tanner, Finney, Fleming (North Dakota) & Tilley.
–> with Ella – Fidler; Robson, Florence & Berenice (Saskatchewan).
Loki (Frog Plain) = no chicks survived.
Beatrix (West Winnipeg) = 4 chicks (2 males / 2 females)
–> with Beau – Beaumont, Bishop, Bristol (Fidler) & Belle.
–> with Ty – Tiggy & Tuppence. *
Hart (Logan) = 22 chicks (10 males / 12 females)
–> with Jolicoeur – Pip (Radisson), Squeak, Will & Tory; Calloway, Django, Oscar & Cole; Elizabeth (Winnipeg), Philip, Mountbatten & Windsor; Jennifer, Jessie, June, Jack & fostered granddaughter Bridget.
–> with Spencer – Sirius, Potter & Luna; Sadie.
–> with Esme – Thelma & Louise.
* duplicates not included in total