First nesting falcons at the University (journal extracts from 1974)

January 21, 1974

University of Calgary

Walking to my four o’clock class I was idly watching the performance of a large flock of pigeons practicing precision flying  in front of the library. I was half consciously wishing a falcon would show up when the flock just flew apart like a bomb burst and, lazily spreading its long wings, a huge prairie falcon lifted out of its strike and caught an updraft over the library.  What a sight!  As she came over the building I saw the old “soggy armpit” wing linings that I haven’t seen for more than two years, and then she turned and went out of sight again. A couple seconds later, the pigeons having regrouped and landed on the library building, I saw the falcon perched on the television aerial on the Education Tower…. Apparently falcons have wintered here during the past two years. In the midst of the crowds and cement buildings, what a bird to see and what a sight!

January 28, 1974

University of Calgary

I saw the prairie falcon again today, or it may have been a gyrfalcon — it flashed brilliant white in the morning sun and seemed to be relatively unmarked below but I’ll never know as it was fairly high. At its approach, while still quite distant, all the pigeons on the library took to the air and began circling. It circled above them once and then swung back to land on the northeast corner of the Education Tower. It sat there for a minute or so and then headed east across the city.

The weather today was classic Calgary weather — cold and clear in the morning, a warm Chinook arrived about ten AM, and this evening we had a blizzard.

February 5, 1974

University of Calgary

I saw the falcon once again, as I sat on the bus to go downtown. It came in from the south, intent on the Library tower and completely oblivious to the afternoon crowds below it.

February 13, 1974

University of Calgary

At two as I left my class I saw the pigeons leave the library building and fly en masse toward Social Sciences. High above them, beating lazily against the blue, a prairie falcon followed them, watching for stragglers. It continued east across the city when the flock turned back, and that was the fourth time I’ve seen it.

April 11, 1974

University of Calgary

A pair of prairie falcons has moved into the university campus, apparently to stay. They were first seen Tuesday evening but I didn’t see them until Wednesday afternoon when a friend and I were walking at three o’clock to the bus stop. We watched them for quite a while at Calgary Hall where the big female has established her nesting ledge. She would leave the ledge and soar in a wide arc toward the Library tower and land again on her ledge, chattering and calling excitedly. The male spent most of his time coasting on the high air currents, although he dropped down a couple times to visit the ledge. Later, he was flying so high as to be almost invisible and she was perched on a corner of the Library tower eating something.

This morning Wayne Nelson climbed to the nesting ledge and put up a sandbox. I was worried that the birds might leave, but at about noon I saw the female land quite unsuspiciously in the sandbox…  The female is immature, probably in her first year, but Wayne says the tercel is an older bird, though probably not the one that was here all winter. He says it was a male all winter, but I’d say that at least the first bird I saw was a female.

For prairie falcons to nest within any sort of close proximity to humans is unheard of. For them to nest on a crowded university campus, within a hundred yards of a noisy construction site, seems almost beyond belief. To see them every day slicing the wind around the building and playing in the updrafts, huge pointed-winged birds, is enough to change the whole feeling of the university for me…. privilege… to see the first wild prairie falcons ever to nest within a city, and to see them every day.

[as I recall, the nesting attempt that year failed. There were been falcons around the university most subsequent winters but I don’t know whether they still hunt pigeons there]