If Falon was literate, she would be able to read this newspaper from a mile away. With large feet, strong talons, and a sharp, hooked beak for seizing and tearing the flesh of her prey, she is a magnificent symbol of speed and ferocity.
She is a four-year-old female Peregrine falcon and her species has defied near-destruction at the hands of humans.
Falon visited grades 4 and 5 classes at the schools last Monday, with handler Emma Stainton, the Canadian Peregrine Foundation’s outreach program educator. Thanks to funding from Ontario Power Generation, the CPF is visiting elementary schools to talk about the history of this bird of prey, how it nearly disappeared during widespread use of the insecticide DDT, and how preservation efforts have helped the raptor population recover.
It was a close call.
When DDT became widely used on crops across North America (starting in the 1940s), there were around 8,000 Peregrines on this continent. The population plummeted to 200 in Canada by the 1970s, with not a single Peregrine left in Ontario. In 1978, the species was labelled endangered.
“In 1980, it was officially listed as extricated from Ontario, which is one step away from extinction,” said Stainton. “This very nearly happened around the world.”
As a bird of prey, it suffered severely from the use of DDT because the falcon’s prey - smaller birds - had consumed the chemical, or other rodents which had ingested the chemical, causing a cumulative effect. DDT can’t be digested and so accumulated in the bird’s tissues, eventually affecting its ability to reproduce.
The insecticide was banned in Canada, but is still used in South and Central America and is present on many of our imported fruits and vegetables, prompting one student to query, “What does it do to people when we eat it?”
Recovery efforts have included captive breeding and release, and endangered species designation in Ontario and New Brunswick prohibits shooting, collecting or harassment of the Peregrine.
These efforts have had positive results in Ontario.
“After about 30 years without Peregrine Falcons in Ontario, a pair was found nesting in 1995,” said Stainton. Now there are about 150 in Ontario.
In recent years, the Peregrine has also been discovered nesting in tall buildings in urban centres, such as in Etobicoke (tall buildings resemble their natural habitat, which are cliffs). The CPF has helped provide monitoring and nest boxes so these birds can safely nest on the tall structures. Urban territories are seen by the CPF as good places for the fragile species to continue its comeback. Cities tend to be in warmer climates (which mean urban-dwelling Peregrines don’t have to migrate to South America where DDT is still prevalent), and also provide a source of food (smaller birds).
The foundation documents the status of Peregrines and other endangered raptors, raises public awareness to the environmental factors affecting Canada’s endangered species and supports recovery, restoration and rehabilitation efforts.
Through OPG’s funding, the CFF have given study guides and a 25-minute educational video to each of the schools.
Falon however, may have been the most effective educational tool of all.