Peregrine falcons were declared an endangered species in North America in 1970. Their numbers had been decimated throughout their breeding range worldwide due to the cumulative effect of the organochlorine pesticide, DDT buildup in their systems. It drastically affected the falcons' ability to reproduce, and so their numbers crashed. With the banning of DDT from use in North America in 1972, peregrine falcon numbers stabilized at very low levels. However, in many instances, such as Southern Alberta and Ontario, it had disappeared from its range entirely. In an effort to bolster these diminished numbers and re-establish the birds in their historic range, the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and the University of Saskatchewan established captive breeding facilities with the intention of producing young falcons for release. By 1985 it had been well documented that release into the wild of captive bred falcons through a technique called "hacking" was very successful; especially in urban environments with their abundant food supply.
The Regina Peregrine Falcon Release began in 1985 as part of a North America wide falcon reintroduction program. It was a co-operative effort between the Saskatchewan Co-operative Falcon Project (U of S), Canada Life, World Wildlife Fund, the City of Regina and a host of volunteers. Regina was chosen as one of two sites in Saskatchewan where young falcons produced by the Saskatchewan Co-operative Falcon Project (SCFP) at the University of Saskatchewan were released. It met the criteria of having tall buildings for potential nest/release sites, abundant food supply and close proximity to water with Wascana Lake.
Canada Life sponsored the first release off the Saskatchewan Power building. It consisted of 3 peregrines (two males, one female). This first attempt met with little success, as all three birds dispersed prematurely from the hack box and failed to return for supplemental feeding. The program was at the bottom end of the learning curve.
In l986 the hack site was moved across the street to the Avord Tower where it was believed less disturbance by maintenance crews would make for a smoother release. Again, three falcons were set free in mid-August, and all went smoothly. All three birds took their inaugural flights according to plan and successfully returned to the box for food. They dispersed normally after three weeks on the wing. However, one male died when he landed on a power transformer on a farm a few miles from Regina.
The first encouraging signs that the program was having some positive effect occurred in 1987 when an immature male peregrine showed at the hack site in spring and again in fall. His band was unreadable. Some insight as to dispersal from Regina was gained through the co-operation of an adventurous female, OT2. She dispersed normally from the site in early August during a particularly wicked wind and rain storm. Two weeks later a somewhat fatigued falcon, OT2, crash-landed on the deck of a freighter in the middle of Lake Huron. She was well cared for and found her way into the hands of an Ontario Raptor rehaber who, upon pronouncing her fit, promptly sent her back to Regina. OT2 was re-released in Regina and a couple of days later she was once again picked up. This time in a marsh in South Carolina suffering from a mild wing injury. After a couple of days rest, she was once again set free and never heard from again. These adventures confirmed the theory that peregrines from the center of the country migrated down the east coast with a host of other peregrines on their traditional migration journey.
Excitement was high in the spring of l988 with the arrival of an adult male peregrine who took up residency on Regina City Hall. The male was originally released from Saskatoon in 1986. Despite his best efforts to attract a female, he was unsuccessful. He was also hesitant at first about helping feed the 5 young birds in the hack box on the Avord Tower. It was not until the chicks made their first flights and began actively food begging from him, that he began to attend to his parental responsibilities. He fed the chicks diligently, which resulted in the most successful release ever in this city.
More signs of the continued recovery of the general peregrine falcon population in Canada. No less than four adult peregrines passed through Regina in the spring of l989. None remained to set up territory, but all showed an affinity to City Hall. It was therefore decided to assemble a small nesting box above one of the flood lights in the crown of the building. In addition, an immature male released from the Avord Tower in 1988 inhabited the downtown area for a short time in June. Five more young were released from a new hack location atop the roof of the Ramada Hotel. This release went very well with all but one young female dispersing successfully.
It was in 1991 that Regina had its first pair of peregrine falcons set up housekeeping in the nest box above the light on City Hall. The surprising thing about this was that both the male and female were originally released in Winnipeg in 1990. It confirmed why these birds are called "wander falcon". The female laid four eggs in a scrape in the nest box with three successfully hatching. A forth captive produced chick was added to the brood to round out the family. One female died on collision with a window, but all the rest were cared for by the adults and dispersed naturally by the end of August.
The successful breeding of peregrines in Regina and other cities across Canada has contributed greatly to the eventual recovery of the species in North America. It should be noted that peregrines are re-inhabiting their wild historic sites as well. For example, Southern Alberta has had several pairs establish in historic territories along their southern river systems. The Canadian Peregrine Recovery Team has agreed that the population has recovered sufficiently enough to recommend that the peregrine be downlisted from its current endangered status. This has not been done as of the date of this writing. This is truly a success story amidst the tragedy of so many endangered species. It has required the time, dedication and resources of many individuals, governments and corporations. It is unprecedented in species management which, unfortunately cannot be repeated for the hundreds of other endangered species in Canada and elsewhere. The peregrine falcon will forever be held out as an example as to what can be done; but also as a reminder that what can happen when man ignores the natural balance and invades the environment with unknown and untested chemicals. The war against ecological destruction is far from over. Only a very small battle has been won.
W. J. Patrick Thompson