A full-grown peregrine falcon is an almost perfect predator, capable of reaching speeds exceeding 300 km/h while diving from the sky. But for a few months after hatching they're like any typically clumsy teen prone to putting themselves in harm's way.
For the offspring of a mating pair of falcons — roosting below the busiest land border crossing in North America — the dangers are everywhere. Wires, water and rumbling transport trucks all threaten the babies that start life as little white balls of fluff.
That's where the Canadian Peregrine Falcon Watch comes in.
For the past decade, volunteers have kept a close eye on every clutch of eggs the pair has produced.
"I was here from 5:30 a.m. to past midnight three days in a row last year," said Steve Atkins.
The animal enthusiast has been spending late spring mornings watching the bottom of the Ambassador Bridge for the past three years. In that time he's seen his fair share of close calls.
"There was one baby playing with his mom and he missed a handoff and the pigeon landed right in the middle of the road," Atkins recalled. "I started to run … and a car came around the corner."
The bird managed to flap away, but Atkins said he has no problem stopping traffic for falcons, even if that means shutting down an international crossing.
"I went up on the bridge last year and got two off there. They landed on the handrail," he said. "I had to chase one of them [45 metres] down the roadway because he was hopping around."
Wayne Hickson just started watching the birds this year. He said it's a love of predators that brings him to the bridge on early mornings, even after working the midnight shift.
"I love it. I just love birds of prey," he said.
Although he's a relative rookie falcon wrangler, Hickson already has at least one capture to his credit after a fledgling bird fell to the ground.
"He just jumped in my arms, put his head back and opened his mouth," said Hickson. "He wasn't fussing or nothing."
There are hazards to grabbing a growing falcon. The birds have a cruelly hooked beak and the kind of talons that can easily tear apart a pigeon. But, when it comes to grabbing a juvenile bird, members of the watch say the best tool is one everyone already carries — their hands.
While Hickson prefers to wear tear-proof teflon gloves, Atkins has preformed a few rescues barehanded, and paid the price.
"He got me right behind the ring here," he said, extending one of his thick, tanned fingers. "It was a pretty clean cut too."
Without the watch, new-born falcons have a survival rate of about 30 per cent, according to Atkins. In the past two years, the bird babysitters have a perfect record. Nine babies born, nine safely raised to adulthood.
"It's like a 24-hour watch, but I love it," said Hickson. "It's amazing. Every day brings something different. I love watching these birds."