British Columbia

Fly-away falcon back to work at airport

It was one part serendipity and one part strangers coming together to capture Jet — the peregrine falcon — and return him to his work post at Vancouver International Airport.

Jet — the peregrine falcon — escaped from post at YVR, found on rooftop at Jericho Beach

Gillian Radcliffe, director of the bird of prey centre The Raptors, pulls Jet — the falcon — to safety with a racket at the Jericho Tennis Club. (Anne Penman)

It was one part serendipity and one part strangers coming together to capture Jet — the peregrine falcon — and return him to his work post at Vancouver International Airport.

Jet is a working falcon, keeping the runways at YVR clear of shorebirds, ducks and geese. He was patrolling the perimeters of the airport on Monday when he suddenly disappeared off the radar.

"He took off after some ducks," said Gillian Radcliffe, director of The Raptors, a bird of prey centre in Duncan that provides the birds for the airport's falconry program.

Radcliffe told CBC's The Early Edition host Rick Cluff that no one was concerned at first because it is part of the falcon's job to chase after other birds.

Most of the time, Jet is a speck on the horizon and his handlers can keep an eye on him.

"Usually, he would reappear within five or 10 minutes if he's gone out of sight," Radcliffe said. "On this occasion, he didn't."

In the five years that Jet has worked at the airport, Radcliffe said, he has never flown away. He has a transmitter attached to him so he can be tracked by radar — so when his signal suddenly disappeared after he flew off, his handlers were very worried. 

"Their fear was that he had gone into the water," Radcliffe said. "They were terribly concerned that an eagle had either knocked him down or grabbed him."

'A bit like a needle in a haystack'

A search was mounted for the missing falcon but no sign of the bird —  or the radar signal — could be found.

"We were trying to get some kind of clue but it's a bit like a needle in a haystack," Radcliffe said.   

At about 4 p.m., after searching all day, Radcliffe got a call from a friend who said she'd seen a falcon on the roof at the Jericho Tennis Club. The search crew rushed over but arrived 10 minutes too late - Jet had flown off again.

They continued searching the area, whistling and swinging lures, and spotted him at the tennis club just as the light was fading.

"About 30 feet up on top of a concrete block, wedged right in amongst these bird spikes and under a big overhang, there was a very plump-looking Jet," Radcliffe said.

She borrowed a racket from the tennis club and, in front of a crowd of dinner-goers, hung out a window to pry Jet into safety.

Jet was back to work at the airport this morning.

With files from The Early Edition.

To hear the full interview about the falcon search-and-rescue, click on the audio link on the upper left corner Fly-away falcon back to work at airport