Starting out with entries from bird-lover Ellen Jakubowski, The Wild Side will be a home for posts about animals, plants, wild spaces, ecology, outdoor adventures, and other exciting topics. If you'd like to blog for The Wild Side, email us at email@example.com.
‘Peregrine’ means traveller; it’s the perfect name for a bird that can cover an impressive 25,000 km in its yearly migrations. While one falcon’s recent trip from Calgary, Alberta to Guelph, Ontario may not seem impressive by comparison, especially considering it was made by plane, it’s one that has special significance.
This bird emerged from her egg on the ledge of a University of Calgary building last May. She came of age under the care of wild parents and took her maiden flight on July 7th. Unfortunately, about a month later, she had a crash landing. Because no bones were broken she was able to fly again, but even after months of rehabilitation her left wing hadn’t regained the strength needed to endure the rigors of life in the wild, especially migration.
The bird (pictured right), known then as ‘Louise,' was fortunate to have a volunteer group at the university looking out for her. They made arrangements to send her to Wild Ontario, an environmental education program at the University of Guelph, where she will serve an ambassador for her species. “As an incredibly charismatic species-at-risk, this is an animal that many people would love to see, but very few actually get a chance,” explains Wild Ontario director, Jenn Bock. “She will inspire thousands of people to connect with the natural world.”
Now newly arrived in Guelph, the bird is a knockout with her chocolate-coloured mantle, heavy streaking and a caramel wash across her breast: juvenile plumage she’ll eventually trade in for the sleek slaty blue of an adult. She also has a new name – Chinook –to go with her new home. It seemed perfect for a beauty that blew in from the West.
50 years ago, the odds of seeing a peregrine hatch in Canada in 2013 looked bleak; widespread use of the organochlorine pesticide, DDT, had nearly erased the species from the Canadian landscape. Chinook and her contemporaries owe their existence to the determined biologists and falconers who pioneered techniques for the captive breeding and release of peregrine falcons. Over 2000 falcons were released across Canada from 1975 – 1996 and the results of regular surveys have shown that the wild population is almost back up to pre-DDT levels.
While the success of this recovery effort has been encouraging, many believe that peregrines still need our help. Volunteer-based organizations across the country continue to give the birds a boost and the one behind Chinook’s rescue at the University of Calgary is just one example. Guided by the expertise of provincial biologist Dr. Gordon Court, this group observes and broadcasts the breeding activity of their campus’ wild pair via a 24-hour webcam and bands chicks in addition to helping hapless fledglings.
I spoke with Elli Jilek, a member of the university’s library and cultural resources staff who’s been involved for 16 years. “We’ve been able to save an awful lot of birds that otherwise would have not survived,” she says proudly. “I figure we have to step in because we’re the ones who caused the problem in the first place.”
Other groups, like Wild Ontario, dedicate themselves to ensuring stories like that of the peregrine falcon are not forgotten. The enthusiastic team of 36 volunteers led by a single staff member delivers educational presentations around the province for groups ranging from Sparks to naturalists’ clubs to veterinary classes. Their programs star live birds of prey, all of which have been rendered unfit for life in the wild due to human activities and whose stories give audiences a personal connection to the wild creatures whose lives they have the power to influence. Director Jenn Bock feels that education is key because, while most people would love to help the environment, they don’t know where to start.
I’m grateful that Chinook has given me an opportunity to reflect on the small armies of people out there who give a darn about wildlife and are doing something about it every day. It’s a theme I’m excited to explore further in future posts; in the meantime, here’s to them!
Ellen Jakubowski has a BSc in Biology from the University of Guelph and a graduate diploma in Science Communication from Laurentian University. A former editorial intern, she can't seem to kick her A\J habit. She's also a museum interpreter and a fundraising volunteer for Wild Ontario.
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