April 30, 2005

Ever wonder what it's like to be hit by a bird travelling at over 300 km/hour?

If you live in the nation's capital, you may be familiar with the fact that we have had a pair of peregrine falcons living on downtown skyscrapers since 1997. Horizon, the female who has lived in our city with three different mates over this 8-year period, currently resides at the Crown Plaza hotel (Lyon and Albert).

In any case, the Ottawa Field Naturalists' Club (OFNC) has been running a "Falcon Watch" for a number of years. Well, it's almost egg-hatching time, which means Falcon Watch is about to kick off and the OFNC is looking for volunteers. This includes one person who is willing to subject themselves to a fierce defensive attack by our local peregrines.

Here's the idea: after the chicks are born, they must be banded. To be banded, they of course need to be handled. The parents don't like that, so they need to be distracted ... by a volunteer "decoy". Here's how it works for the lucky person: They get strapped into a harness (remember we're at the top of a hotel that is suitably cliff-like as far as the falcons as concerned) and they go out onto the peregrine's ledge. This volunteer is not just strapped into a harness, but is also covered with some serious padding and wearing a hard hat. Why? Because a peregrine falcon diving in attack mode can travel at -- get this -- over 300 km/hour. This makes peregrine falcons perhaps the fastest creatures on the planet.

A report from last year's peregrine pbservations details the charge:

Tracy from Canadian Peregrine Foundation (CPF) was the decoy this year. She had done this elsewhere in the past, but wasn't prepared for our Horizon. She no sooner got her head out the doorway on the ledge with hard hat in hand than, WHAM, she was hit on the side of her head! From then on until she was brought back inside, she was on the defensive, sustaining at least 30 physical hits from Horizon! Connor flew around and made lots of noise, but never made physical contact. We could hear and see much of this from above in the room.

Posted by anatole at April 30, 2005 04:41 AM

This is totally awesome. I think Mike Hoye would love to do this.

On another topic: do you have any thoughts about how the federal government, as land-owner, employer, and so on, impacts the public life of Ottawans? Would that be an interesting theme to explore in a blog post? I'm sure you HAVE been addressing it to some degree, perhaps not explicitly. Anyway with this Munter article and so on I'm just thinking about how your blog and others could start to bring out some of the _structural_ reasons for Ottawa's character as a city.


Posted by: George at May 1, 2005 04:21 PM

I totally would.

Posted by: Mike Hoye at May 1, 2005 10:26 PM

Update: I've sent an e-mail to volonteer, and they've put me on what will, presumably, be a short list. This could be pretty cool, thanks for the information.

Posted by: Mike Hoye at May 2, 2005 07:21 PM