Peregrines in Peril
The near-demise of the Peregrine Falcon over much of it's North American breeding range was primarily caused by pesticides such as DDT. With a ban on the use of this persistent toxic chemical in Canada and the U.S. in the early 1970s, coupled with massive conservation efforts, the Peregrine began a steady recovery. Unfortunately, there is continued concern for the welfare of this "at-risk" species. DDT is still being used in several countries inCentral and South American where the Peregrines winter. Moreover, songbirds wintering in South America come north in the spring with toxic chemical residues in their body tissues such toxins are passed on to the Peregrines when these birds are taken as prey. And even after the DDT problem has been completely addressed there may well be other chemicals that prove to be injurious. Thus, for the Peregrine Falcon, being on top of a food chain has its price. For the human race, the Peregrine, like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, is a barometer of environmental health.
Bringing them Back
An international conservation program began in the 1970s in Canada and the U.S. in an attempt to bring back the Peregrine Falcon. A procedure known as "hacking" was suggested by experienced falconers as a means of reintroducing this endangered bird. This consists of releasing captive-bred young birds from pens or "hack-boxes" placed on city buildings and natural cliffs. Regarded initially as an experiment, the program has had marked success. City releases have the advantage of increased security from predators such as Great Horned Owls and reduced toxic chemical loads in such resident birds as pigeons. City releases are also easier to monitor; equally important, they provide an enlightening experience for large numbers of people.
From 1981 to 2009, over 200 Peregrines have been released from various locations in Winnipeg, Brandon, Portage la Prairie and Gimli by the Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project in cooperation with the Wildlife and Ecosystem Branch of Manitoba Conservation. These birds, and their offspring, have successfully held breeding territories in Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Brandon, Winnipeg, Fargo, North Dakota, and Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska.
In 1989, a pair of Peregrines successfully fledged four young from a nest-box on the Delta Winnipeg Hotel (now the Radisson Hotel Skyline) in downtown Winnipeg. This was the first documented nesting in Manitoba for more than fifty years. The male of this pair had been released in Winnipeg in 1986, the female was hatched from a wild nest in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1987. The pair nested together at the Radisson until the female's death in 1991. Since that first nest in 1989, the Radisson nest site has been occupied continuously by a total of six different pairs over the years. Three of the four resident males fledged in downtown Winnipeg, while the fourth was a related bird from Brandon. Interestingly, none of resident females are from Manitoba, they are all from the United States. The second confirmed nesting in Manitoba occurred at the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry Campus in 1992. This site was abandoned three years later when the male from the University site took over the Radisson site. In 1993, there was a third successful nestsite in the province, this one on the McKenzie Seeds Building in Brandon, just over 200 kilometres west of Winnipeg. Like the Radisson site, the other McKenzie Seeds nest territory has been occupied continuously since the first year. Two sites in downtown Winnipeg were occupied in the mid-1990s, but each only for a single year, probably because they are too close to the Radisson site and the Radisson pairs have always been very protective of their territory. In 2007, a new site in West Winnipeg was established but to date, there have been no successful nests there and in 2009, a fourth site was occupied in western Manitoba, but no nesting occurred.
Funds for Falcons
The Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project began as a recovery initiative of Manitoba Conservation's Wildlife and Ecosystem Protection Branch in 1981. In 1989, the Zoological Society of Manitoba received a grant from the provincial government's Conservation Fund which provided the seed money for the recovery project. When the Delta Winnipeg Hotel (now the Radisson Hotel Skyline) expressed an interest in helping support the project, the current Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project (Manitoba) was born. In 1998, the Project ended its association with the Zoological Society when it became an independent not-for-profit conservation organization with official charitable status.
The goal of the Project is to work to re-establish a self-sustaining population of Peregrine Falcons in Manitoba as part of the national Peregrine recovery effort. With the increasing number of "at-risk" species and because most of our activities are on-going, we are usually not eligible for grants. The Project is volunteer-driven, relying almost entirely on public donations to support its recovery efforts.