5-star nest boxes for peregrine falcons
If you look up at the skies around the Edmonton cement plant during the spring and summer months, you may be treated to a peregrine falcon flyby – but don’t blink or you will miss the fastest animal on earth.
Peregrines, endangered at the time in Northern America, first took up summer residence at the Edmonton cement plant in 1992. Since then, they have become a yearly visitor, with the site staff becoming their proud guardians. A species that has historically favoured rocky cliffs to set up home, the Peregrine falcon has learned to adapt to increasing urban expansion and can nest in some of the most unlikely places.
The Edmonton cement plant was one of these, when a slightly misguided pair decided to make their home inside a duct of one of the buildings! Far from optimal for either the birds or the employees, the plant got in touch with the Fish & Wildlife agency for assistance. This was the start of a long and fruitful relationship focused on Peregrine conservation.
Edmonton recognised the value of accommodating an endangered species on site and, with the help of Fish & Wildlife, set up nest boxes in areas with less human interference and minimal potential impacts on production. However, persuading the birds that these boxes really were 5-star accommodations, and that randomly laying eggs around the plant was not a good idea, took a bit of effort!
Ultimately, the nest boxes proved successful and the birds continued to arrive each spring to successfully nest, raising on average 3-4 young annually. Not only do they successfully breed, but they also help the wider population by fostering and fledging additional chicks displaced from other nest sites in the wider vicinity.
“In past years, our adult falcons have successfully raised as many as 7 young on our site, 3 hatched on-site and 4 adopted from more challenging sites in the city,” said Brent Korobanik, Environment Manager at Edmonton.
Each year staff eagerly await the arrival of these powerful birds, and their return is met with optimism and pride. An event is held in the summer to health-check the chicks and fit them with an identification band. Employees and their families are invited to join, giving young and old alike the opportunity for a close-up encounter with the magical peregrine falcon.
“Banding day brings a great deal of optimism and pride to the plant every year, when we first get to introduce the fledglings to employees and visitors and to watch their eyes grow with interest and respect when they see the nestling falcons up close,” continued Brent Korobanik.
The plant’s efforts as part of the wider Alberta species recovery program have really paid off: the peregrine falcon was reclassified from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’ in Canada; just recently, its status has been further upgraded to ‘recovered’.
“When we think about nature and our industry, quarries usually spring to mind. But this success story proves that, no matter what the location, opportunities to support biodiversity exist everywhere,” said Brent Korobanik.
“Since the peregrines first started nesting at the plant, Lehigh Hanson has helped to raise more than 120 young peregrine falcons, contributing to a great species recovery success story,” Brent Korobanik added. “However, one of the greatest senses of achievement came two years ago, when one of our fledglings was identified returning to a nest site north of the plant and successfully raised young in the wild (she was spotted again last year at the same site in the wild),” said Brent Korobanik.
As the peregrine isn’t subject to COVID-19 travel restrictions, they have now left the plant and flown south for the winter. The departure of the birds to their beach vacations in south and central America does not go unnoticed at the plant, and there is an interesting shift in the behaviour of other birds. Ravens quickly return and pigeons take to flight far more often, while new winged predators extend their ranges to include the cement plant. With the coming and going of the peregrine falcon, the impact a top predator can have on an ecosystem can be observed firsthand at the cement plant. Although a small-scale example, it highlights the key role these species play for biodiversity and ecosystem health.