Peregrine Falcon Recovery Program

Click here to read Parkland Mews Recovery Plan in PDF Format

The Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus is a migratory bird of prey that inhabits the tundra, boreal forest, prairie, agricultural areas and urban settings in Manitoba. Berger and Nero (1992) state the following: “The available evidence indicates historically, the Peregrine Falcon should be regarded as a rare but indigenous nesting species in Manitoba.”

Species Information
Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus anatum
Common Name: Peregrine Falcon.
Current Manitoba Status: Endangered.
Breeding Range in Manitoba: Southern Manitoba.
Rationale for Status: A sudden decline in the known breeding population.

Known Number of Nesting Sites in Manitoba
Six sites. Five urban and one rural (historic).

Rate of Population Decline
Manitoba Peregrine Falcon nest occupancy peaked in 1995 with a total of four breeding sites being documented as active. From this peak, occupancy dropped to three for the next two years and fell further with pairs present at two sites 1998-2000. In 2001, a single site remained occupied by a mother and son pairing. This represents a decline of 75% of the known breeding population within seven years. The cause of recruitment failure is unknown despite a successful breeding and release program for the mid- west continent during the period.

Potentially Limiting Intrinsic Factors
Early mortality is the single biggest limiting factor facing Peregrine Falcons in Manitoba. There are numerous causes that can be attributed to this early mortality such as starvation due to a lack of necessary hunting skills or sufficient prey. Peregrines do not normally nest until the age of two. During this time there are long annual migrations to and from their wintering grounds in Central and South America. First year mortality has been estimated as high as 70%. Of the 138 Peregrines documented leaving Manitoba, 12 were known to have completed the round trip. These figures represent both hacked and wild-bred birds over a time span of two decades. For this reason a large part of the strategy does target life history features such as juvenile mortality and migration as a conservation focus.

Great Horned owls and mammalian predators appear consistently in the literature regarding threats against Peregrine Falcons. An emerging threat to birds of prey is the West Nile Virus. What impact, if any, this poses for Peregrines is yet to be determined. However for Peregrines held in captivity the virus could prove to be problematic unless a vaccine can be developed in time. Climatic factors such as extreme cold at unseasonable times of the year may cause egg failure. Young dispersing from urban nest sites surrounded by agriculture areas with grain crops typical of southern Manitoba landscapes could be at risk. Peregrines on formative flying excursions may be prevented from opening its wings if landing in a field containing tall stem crops such as wheat or sunflowers. Collisions are a significant factor of early mortality in young Peregrines. Olendorff and Lehman (1986) report Peregrine Falcon collisions with transmission lines to have a mortality rate of 83 percent. The Peregrines speed during pursuit is thought to be a contributing factor in fatal collisions.

Parkland Mews Recovery Action Concept
The concept that may best describe the Manitoba recovery action relies heavily on the falconry aspect known as hack. It could be described as a form of ‘falconry furlough’. Trained falcons are maintained in a state of protective liberty as much as is humanly possible to do so. The birds are free flying during the day, and as a result of special training take refuge in a protective roost at night where they are kept safe from predators. The protected roost site serves as an eyrie during spring. This concept allows us to work in a manner that is a little closer to nature, and yet offers enough protection to achieve the desired result.

The author began experimenting with this concept in 1987 with New Zealand Falcons. The birds were maintained for long periods thoughout the year in a free flying state after they had be habituated to a modified structure that served as a roost/nest site. The different pairs of falcons used in this research would roost in the structure or a nearby tree each evening and for the most part not only catch their own food but also defend the immediate roost area. Indeed it was possible to be away from the property for two or three days at a time and come back and find the birds still in residence.

Further experimentation lead to the establishment of a nesting pair on a vineyard where they served as a form of natural control against bird pest species damaging the grapes. This pair of New Zealand Falcons laid eggs and incubated them to full term although the eggs turned out to be infertile. The work that began in 1987 continued until 1993, during this time the falcons remained responsive to either calling to the glove, the lure or to tossed food. The birds also displayed strong attachment to their roost each evening and were easily secured inside when it was deemed appropriate (R. Wheeldon, unpublished data).

Plan Intent
The intent of the Manitoba plan is to accomplish two goals. The first is to develop a made-in-Manitoba solution for sustaining nesting pairs of Peregrine Falcons in the province so as to conserve this rare species. The second goal is to achieve a change in status from ‘Endangered’ under the Endangered Species Act to ‘Protected’ under the Wildlife Act.

Recommended Approaches
- Development of Specially Designed Flight Enclosures
One of the key aspects of the recovery strategy involves the construction of specially designed flight enclosures featuring a model nest site. The enclosures are considered critical for the following reasons.

a) They will serve as a holding facility until the birds are of breeding age
b) They will facilitate research aspects of the project with regards to the behaviour modification process, especially the imprinting on model nest sites.
c) The enclosures will allow for assessment for pairing compatibility prior to release as adults.

Securing the necessary resources for the development of the flight enclosures is ranked as a first priority.

Managing the Parkland Mews Breeding For Release Program
The breeding for release option provides the means by which a recovery process can begin. As the intent is for release, only pure anatum stock is used. Aspects to be considered include the following:

Captive Breeding
a) The source of captive breeding stock
b) The genetic assessment of pairs
c) The genetic compatibility of pairs
d) The suitability for breeding
e) The evaluation of breeding performance
f) Seasonal management regimes and record keeping
g) Support resources; incubator room, brooder room, and game bird production unit.

Managing the Parkland Mews Peregrine Falcon Development Program
Post Hatching to Post Fledging.
Considerations include the following:
a) Early development of the chicks
b) Later development of the chicks
c) Imprinting on the parents
d) Imprinting on siblings
e) Environmental imprinting
f) Habituation and conditioning
g) Development of survival responses
h) Record keeping and review process

Managing the Parkland Mews Falconry Program
Aspects to be considered include the following.
Equipment and Facilities
a) Gloves, hoods, anklets, jesses, swivels, leashes, perches, bells, telemetry
b) Mews design
c) Flight enclosure design
d) Weathering yard design
e) Hack tower design and placement

Care of Falconry Birds
a) Development of Peregrines post fledging
b) Training, habituating, conditioning, hunting
c) Preparing for life on the tower
d) Maintaining at tame hack
e) Maintaining through each season year one
f) Maintaining through each season year two
g) Record keeping and review process

Managing the Parkland Mews Breeding at Tame Hack Program
a) Selection of individuals as prospective mates
b) Assessment of pairs for compatibility
c) Management of pairs during courtship
d) Management of pairs during nesting
e) Management of pairs and progeny
f) Management of pairs and young post breeding season
g) Record keeping and review process

Actions Already Completed or Underway
In July of 1999 Manitoba Conservation received a proposal from Parkland Mews concerning recovery action for the Peregrine Falcon in Manitoba. The author was issued a license under Manitoba’s Endangered Species Legislation permitting the acquisition of Peregrine Falcons.

By summer 2000 a resource building comprising of two basic flight enclosures, office, shop, Game bird production area, brooder incubator room and mews along with separate weathering yards were completed.

In 2001 another female Peregrine had been acquired and a hack-breeding tower constructed at the Parkland Mews location due to the generosity of Manitoba Hydro.

During 2002 experimental work was conducted maintaining a Red-Tailed Hawk at hack on the breeding release tower for five weeks until migration, as a precursor to using Peregrine Falcons. Additionally at the request of Manitoba Conservation the Executive Director of Parkland Mews wrote both a Recovery Plan and a Recovery Strategy for the Peregrine Falcon in Manitoba.