Rare birds make U of C their home

By Sara Hanson

Cragie Hall C is home to the fastest known species on earth.

A pair of peregrine falcons have been living on campus since late Mar. and will travel with their young on their annual migration to Central or South America. For over ten years, the University of Calgary has provided a safe nesting location for a pair of adult peregrines on the roof of Craigie Hall during the spring and summer months.

U of C Libraries and Cultural Resources staff member Elli Jilek has worked closely with the peregrines since she came to the university ten years ago. She noted peregrines are not unique to Calgary, as they are commonly found in other urban centres such as Edmonton and Toronto.

“They usually prefer [urban areas] for two reasons,” said Jilek. “They like high buildings because they are ideal for flight, and [urban areas provide] a good source of food because there is a lot of birdlife, such as pigeons.”

Provincial Wildlife Status biologist Gordon Court explained peregrine falcons are especially unique, as they are the fastest species in the world, with dive speeds reaching up to 243 miles or 391 km an hour. He also noted these birds of prey were almost wiped out by DDT–an agricultural pesticide–during the 1960s and ’70s. However, to prevent peregrines from becoming completely extinct, the Federal government stepped in and began breeding the remaining pairs in captivity in Wainwright, Alberta.

“[The government] hoped to breed the peregrines until the world cleaned up,” said Court. “It’s one of the good-news environmental stories of the last 50 years.”

Although peregrines were recently removed from the national list of threatened species, Court noted they are still considered threatened in Alberta, where only 50-60 pairs currently reside.

“It is important to maximize their reproductive habitats,” said Court. “We have been very lucky the university has protected their nest over the years, as it is a very safe and productive place to breed.”

In addition to her full-time job, Jilek monitored the falcons on campus, rescuing fallen birds and assisting Alberta Fish and Wildlife with banding the birds so they can be tracked during migration. She also posts regular updates documenting the nesting process and the health of the baby falcons on the ucalgary.ca website.

“You have to do what you can so the biologists can figure out what’s going on with the current population,” she said. “It gives them some good statistics.”

Jilek was also involved with the discussions surrounding construction for the Taylor Family Digital Library, as Craigie Hall C was supposed to be demolished. However, university architect Jane Pendergast noted plans have since changed.

“[The original design for the TFDL] required taking down Craigie C to make for entry,” she said. “But, it’s been decided that does not need to be done in the near future.”

Pendergast added the university worked with wildlife experts to design two alternative falcon condos, to which the peregrines could relocate if construction disrupts their current location. However, Jilek stressed the importance of preserving the existing peregrine nest as well as the surrounding area, which is home to a number of species of birds, including owls.

“I don’t think people know how important the green space on campus is,” said Jilek. “The birds are part of that whole picture, so it’s important.”

If future construction plans do force the peregrines to relocate, Court said they will adapt to a new home quite easily.

Leave a comment