Heaven Sent

photo courtesy of D Swayze Jennifer’s other daughter watching all the action from her nice safe spot on the catwalk not far from the nest

Yesterday we got a call (actually a couple of calls) about a peregrine chick in the parking lot at the Manitoba Hydro Generating Station in Selkirk. With the pandemic, things like rescues need a bit more organizing than usual so once we had determined that the chick was roaming around and safe from vehicles, predators and any other potential dangers, we were able to contact Lisa Tretiak at Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre to see if she was in town and might be able to check the chick for us – if she was it would reduce how far we’d need to travel and less travel time equals less stress on the chick.

Fortunately, Lisa was available and Dennis and I took off for Selkirk with gear in hand for a rescue and a banding if the chick was uninjured. Hydro staff had been keeping an eye out for the chick as they went about their daily activities and by the time we arrived, the chick had wandered around to the other side of the building and was perched on a cradle of piping. That was good news, it meant the chick was most likely not neurologically compromised, hadn’t injured his/her legs and likely didn’t have any vision problems. We watched the chick from a distance for a few minutes to look for obvious signs of injury (there were none) and to see how it responded to our presence. We guessed that “it” was actually a “she” by her overall size and the size of her feet. She was very calm and wasn’t quite giving us the “stink eye” like grounded chicks often do. This chick’s first contact with humans was only a few hours ago and so far had been respectful and not particularly scary. That however, was about to change.

photo courtesy of D Swayze “Do you come here often?”

She didn’t huff or puff up or hiss or do anything defensive when I introduced myself – usually there are at least a couple of attempts to impale me with talons but she just looked at me calmly while I picked her up. This was the first time that I thought there might indeed be something wrong with her, I’ve never had a bird be so passive when I picked it up. We wrapped the chick in the towel to keep her calm and protected as we walked back to our vehicle. As we walked back we kept an eye on the adults and looked around for the other two chicks in case she wasn’t the only chick needing a rescue. We didn’t have to worry, one was still on the catwalk, the other was up on the roof of the station making the kind of fuss we were expecting from our towel-wrapped companion. We’d brought a pet carrier with us for the trip into town and the chick went into the box with just a little grabbing at the towel but still no hissing or huffing and fortunately, no yelling.

photo courtesy of D Swayze

Our rescuee was a wonderful travelling companion, she was quiet and apparently not freaked out by her temporary accommodations. An hour later when we met up with Lisa, the chick was not of a mind to get out of the pet carrier and I borrowed some gloves from Lisa to extract chick. Those who have followed the story of our peregrines for a few years may know that I usually don’t use gloves, not because I don’t value my fingers but because I use my hands to “see” what I’m coming in contact with and I find gloves make that difficult. In this case, the gloves were so the chick could grab at me as much and as hard as she liked while I got hold on her feet to extract her without injury. Worked perfectly but she did manage to bite me on the wrist – no blood but was going to have a wicked bruise there in a couple of days. We also found out that she can yell if she wants – lucky for us she only did it once, she has a very good set of lungs on her.

photo courtesy of D Swayze

Didn’t take Lisa long to give the chick a thorough exam and declare her to be in excellent health – wonderful news for chick because it means she will be going back to Selkirk tomorrow morning. When we release falcons back into the wild, we band them so that we have an opportunity to track them in the future. Since we had her in our hands and she was already annoyed at us, we banded her then and there. So with Lisa’s assistance, we confirmed the chick was indeed a female and gave her some bling – a black band with a unique number/letter combination because she hatched from a wild nest and a silver USFWS aluminum band with another unique nine-digit number on her other leg. Couple of photos of her decked out in her new bands for our records and she went back into the carrier for the next leg of her trip.

Chick spent the night in seclusion at my home before we got back on the road very early the next morning. The weather forecast was for hot temperatures and winds that were expected to get stronger as the day went on, so we wanted to get her back earlier rather than later today and fortunately the folks at the Station were able to accommodate our request. An hour later we were back and getting our safety gear on. Our plan was to put her back on the roof where we know one of her siblings was yesterday and where we know her parents can easily find her. The winds were already pretty strong and were stronger still on the roof, so we chose to open up the box so that she couldn’t immediately run to the edge of the building and unintentionally get blown off again. Seems her reticence to exit the carrier yesterday with Lisa was not a one-off! We opened up the carrier and gave her lots of room and didn’t rush her – usually that is all it takes. Not with this chick, and though I tried to gently encourage her out, those talons were put to good use and she was not coming out of the carrier.

photo courtesy of D Swayze It’s really not that scary out here, come on out, it will be okay … we promise!

photo courtesy of D Swayze

Eventually I employed a little more proactive encouragement (I tipped the carrier up another couple of inches) as I wanted her to exit to be on her own steam rather than having to extract her – she didn’t much like that last time. It worked but she sure wasn’t sure she wanted out. She took a long slow look around and at us before she toddled over the edge of the building. We backed off across the roof so as not to spook her. The winds were getting strong enough to blow an inexperienced fledgling off the edge (again) which is not what we wanted. She was pretty good at keeping herself on the roof edge though there were a couple of close calls! We watched her from around a corner, waiting for her to work her way down closer to her parents so that opening the door wouldn’t startle her when we went back inside.

In the end, it was the perfect opportunity for Dennis to get a few more beautiful photos of our travelling companion. And then we were making our way back down to the ground.

A funny thing happened on the way to our vehicle … yup, our little friend beat us back down to the ground and ironically, she was back in the exact spot where she was first found yesterday. Knowing where she’d been found, we were pretty sure that she had “dribbled” down the wall of the building after not gaining enough altitude to land on the roof. It’s not an unusual occurrence and in our experience. Peregrine chicks are gliders when they first fly – they stick the big flappy things out and off they go but they actually learn how to fly once they are already in the air. The first lesson is how to glide and gain altitude so you land back where you came from. When you can’t quite reach where you came from, the “dribble” happens – the chick realizes they are too low and because they were slowing down to land, they don’t collide so much as come up short and then they try to grab hold of the wall where they can. On rough, textured walls like at the Radisson Hotel in Winnipeg, chicks can often grab hold and sometimes they can “walk” up the last couple of feet to their target. For buildings with smoother sides, like at the Station, the chick uses its wings and feet to control its descent and they land with surprising grace on the ground, usually uninjured or not seriously. But they are still grounded and vertical flight isn’t nearly as easy as it looks, it takes time to learn and requires more strength that newly-fledged chicks just don’t have yet. Of course we didn’t see what happened but knowing where she was 10 minutes earlier the most likely scenario is that she went off the edge (either on purpose or because of the wind), circled around the smokestack to come back to get to the catwalk or the roof and realizing she was too low (again), “dribbled” down the wall to land at the edge of the parking lot (again).

photo courtesy of D Swayze “Fancy meeting you here … again”

Bit of a segue here … I was looking at names last night and I’d decided to go with One that starts with “J” in honour of both her mother Jennifer and her grandmother Jolicoeur. There are a huge number of “J” names out there, so it was no easy task especially as I was looking for something that applied to this chick’s story. Eventually I found a name with a meaning that I thought might work, but sometimes my humour can be a bit dark, so I ran it past Dennis on our drive out. Seems Dennis has been hanging out with the peregrines long enough that his humour has gotten a little dark as well.

So back to our little buddy sitting in the parking lot wondering why she can’t seem to get away from us. That’s when we were sure that We had chosen the right name. Say hello to Jennet. According to the source I consulted, Jennet (with one “n” or two) means “one who is heaven-sent”. In this case, we are using sky and heaven interchangeably. First time “heaven” sent her we got to check her out and assess her health and by proxy the health of her siblings, and we got to get a band on at least one chick from this family. The second time “heaven” sent her we knew Nature’s humour was a bit of black too – now we would have to carry her up all those stairs again. Sometimes Nature hates us. So, back on went the personal protection equipment and we got prepared to catch young Jennet again – there was no way she was going to make it as easy to catch her this time! Wrong, it was as easy as the first time. I asked her to be nice and she was very nice. Few minutes later we had Jennet safely in “her” carrier and were waiting for an escort to take us back up to the roof. We do a lot of stairs in this job and so far our collective knees are holding out, but we weren’t going to be held responsible for thinking bad thoughts about this bird if she ended up in the parking lot a third time!

photo courtesy of D Swayze Jennifer on the right, her unbanded mate on the left, making sure we were indeed bringing back their wayward daughter.

Stairs and more stairs and then we were out the door and onto the roof (again). Mom and Dad were waiting for us this time, giving us very stern disapproving looks from the high catwalk. Or maybe those looks were for Jennet? Fortunately they didn’t actively demonstrate their disapproval, it’s a very open roof so they definitely would have had the advantage!

photo courtesy of D Swayze

This time we thought we’d put Jennet in the nestbox, hoping that she would stay there long enough to have a second (or third) thought about trying to fly again right away. This time, she did puff up and gave us the “stink eye” for good measure, and she stayed where we put her. When we got to the ground again, the first thing we did was look around the parking lot and thankfully she wasn’t there. We then wandered around so we could see her where she was hopping on and off the roof edge squawking at her parents as they flew overhead. And she didn’t try to fly again. We watched her for awhile and when we were sure she was settling down, we exited, stage left.

photo courtesy of D Swayze Jennet carefully walking her way along the roof edge – she wisely hopped down when the wind gusts tried to blow her off.

If she survives her first year, I really hope Jennet finds a mate and nests – here or somewhere else. It would be wonderful to see/hear about her as a “heaven-sent” mama ferociously defending her chicks like her grandmother Joli! As I said, sometimes our humour gets a little dark.

photo courtesy of D Swayze Jennifer (bottom bird) and her unbanded mate escorting us off the premises!