WATERLOO — For the last week, Mark Nash and Frank Butson have spent 16 hours a day camped out, peering into telescopes, hoping to catch a glimpse of a baby peregrine falcon who’s still too fat to fly.
It hatched atop the roof of the 19-floor Sun Life building at King Street South and Union Boulevard about 40 days ago.
They’re watching to see when the baby will begin attempting to fly, something Nash, who serves as director of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation, says baby falcons attempt by accident at first.
“It’s an accident or the wind goes, and they’ve got their wings going and suddenly they lift off and they kite off. The baby fat, the un-coordination, the lack of muscle mass brings it to the ground.”
But he cautioned that “it’s not like turkeys falling out of WKRP helicopters. They flutter to the ground.”
It’s a strange beginning for a bird known around the world as the fastest animal on earth. Adult Peregrines can dive through the air at speeds of more than 320 km/h.
Peregrine falcons typically build nests on cliff outcroppings but sometimes will opt for a roof or ledge.
Nash, Butson and the dozens of volunteers they have recruited will try and rescue the chubby infant falcon should it “flutter” into any nearby buildings, land in someone’s backyard or worse — plop down on a busy street. If it lands near danger, Nash said a young falcon’s first instinct is to “sit motionless, still and quiet” in hopes predators will leave it alone.
“We’ve been doing this for 17 years. The first couple of years when we were doing this, when we couldn’t get to them soon enough, they literally watch themselves get run over by cars and buses. They have no fear, they’re naïve.”
Nash and Butson got their first “really good peak” Thursday morning when the chick spent nearly an hour peering down at them from the roof atop the region’s tallest tower.
Employees at the Sun Life building have been volunteering to watch the falcon on their breaks. They’re also holding a contest to pick a name for the falcon chick.
To coax it to begin flying, the baby falcon’s parents will start to feed it less often to help it lose weight and gain muscle.
Ontario Hawking Club president Martin Geleynse said the baby falcon will probably have its first flight between now and Sunday.
Peregrine falcons were once threatened by extinction due to the use of DDT pesticides and habitat destruction in the 1950s and 60s. A ban on the pesticide and attempts to release pairs of falcons into the wild has brought their numbers back to acceptable levels.
He said the efforts to restore the province’s falcon population represents “success in a field where we don’t get too many successes.”