British Columbia·Photos

'Show them who's boss': Raptors ward off problem gulls on Granville Island

Predatory birds are enlisted to educate visitors — and intimidate pesky seagulls.

Predatory birds enlisted to educate visitors — and intimidate pesky seagulls and crows

Avro, a peregrine falcon named after the Canadian fighter jet the Avro Arrow, comes to Granville Island every week to educate visitors — and ward off problem birds. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The moment Kim Kamstra steps out of his car, the seagulls at Granville Island begin to shriek.

That's because they know he's got two predatory falcons with him — birds that are known to prey on seagulls in the wild.

"The gulls have actually got facial recognition on me," he said. "They recognize me and start screaming."

Kim Kamstra and his wife, Karen, bring Laska and Avro to the popular tourist area every week to educate visitors about raptors — and ward off the problem birds known to snatch up peoples' lunches.

But despite several months of winged intimidation, the pesky birds keep coming back — because people keep feeding them.

A common seagull stands atop a waste disposal bin as the predatory falcons make their way to the Granville Island Public Market. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

'Show them who's boss'

Granville Island is a notorious food haven for crows, pigeons and ducks.

But seagulls have been known to cause a bit of a ruckus.

"Seagulls have no problem stealing your pizza or your sandwich right out of your hand — they're very sneaky," said Kamstra.

Kim Kamstra tells interested bystanders peregrine falcons are the fastest creatures on Earth, reaching speeds up to nearly 400 km per hour. Kamstra has wished he could fly with the same speed, percision and grace of a peregrine falcon all his life. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The husband and wife team — owners of Raptors Ridge Birds of Prey — were recruited by Granville Island management to scare the pesky gulls away.

"We wanted our visitors to have a more pleasant experience when they're eating outside, so we brought the raptors in to show them who's boss," said Lisa Ono, the district's public affairs manager.

A winged problem

The gulls tend to scatter once the falcons enter the area — even though the predators never even take flight.

"When you have a bird like this here, by his natural presence ... all the gulls take off. It's just natural predator-prey relationship," said Kim Kamstra while he held Avro — a peregrine falcon that can reach speeds up to 400 kilometres per hour.

Laska, a female saker falcon, perches on the arm of raptor expert Karen Kamstra outside the Granville Island Public Market. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

But the birds often don't leave for long.

"One time we were a little bit later getting down here than we had liked, and there was a gull that had actually taken a little bit of a chunk out of a child's face — and that didn't sit well with me," said Karen Kamstra.

Prohibited by the city

Signs posted throughout Granville Island warn of a city bylaw that prohibits feeding birds food scraps, yet many people on Granville Island continue to do so.

Karen Kamstra says its what keeps the birds coming back — especially the pigeons.

"They shouldn't be feeding the birds," she said, adding that pigeons carry disease. "We try to tell the people not to feed the pigeons — but they tell us to mind our own business."

For the most part, the pigeons seem unfazed by the falcons. Meanwhile, the seagulls, lulled by Granville Island's fish market and many restaurants, will inevitably return.

"If I was a gull — what better place to live?" said Kim Kamstra.

Follow Jon Hernandez on Twitter: @jonvhernandez


Jon Hernandez

Video Journalist

Jon Hernandez is an award-winning multimedia journalist from Vancouver, British Columbia. His reporting has explored mass international migration in Chile, controversial logging practices in British Columbia, and the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Follow Jon Hernandez on Twitter: