Calgary hospital deploys falcons to chase off pesky pigeons

Falconer John Campbell has been recruited to help the South Health Campus in southeast Calgary with its pigeon problem. He'll use three peregrine falcons in the effort.

Too many birds of a feather are flocking together at the South Health Campus

This is one of three baby peregrine falcons being kept at the South Health Campus in Calgary, Alta. Falconer John Campbell and Alberta Health Services are hoping the birds of prey will chase away around 200 pigeons on the roof of the building. (Ken Crebbin)

The South Health Campus in southeast Calgary is enlisting the help of some feathered friends to get rid of 200 unwelcome winged guests.

A large flock of pigeons has set up shop on the roof of the medical facility, prompting Alberta Health Services to call in John Campbell, a local falconer. He'll use three baby peregrine falcons to chase away the airborne pests.

"One (falcon) has fledged and we're waiting for the other two," Campbell told the Calgary Eyeopener. "Peregrine falcons are a natural predator of birds, things like pigeons, so they're releasing them from the building to see if that makes a difference."

Campbell said the birds are still learning to fly and will be too young to hunt the pigeons for some time. But he hopes the birds will start hunting and chasing away the pigeons as well as other small game around the hospital.

Falcons prove more effective

Some people use statues of owls to scare off pigeons, but Campbell said real birds of prey are much more effective because pigeons can learn that the owl decoys don't pose an actual threat.

"You could [use] anything that would scare them, that would go after them as prey," Campbell said. "It doesn't have to be falcons but the falcons work very well." 

Experienced Falconer John Campbell examines one of the baby peregrine falcons he hopes will start hunting pigeons at the South Health Campus in Calgary, Alta. (Ken Crebbin)

Shawn Buchanan with AHS is in charge of getting rid of the pigeons and says so far attempts to chase away the flying pests has been unsuccessful.

"We had noise calls set up on the building in one location for a while and then that didn't seem to be working, so we added a couple more," Buchanan said.

"It would work at first and then the birds got used to it and they would even get attracted to some of the noises."

Buchanan said AHS has considered using spikes on the roof to dissuade the pigeons from landing but many of the ledges the birds are roosting on aren't accessible.

Peregrine population declining

Peregrine falcons are native to Alberta but Campbell said the population is in decline.

With around 80 pairs of the birds living in the province, most of them north of Fort McMurray, Campbell said he hopes the birds at the South Health Campus will make the hospital their semi-permanent home in between migrations to Central and South America.

This sign at the South Health Campus in Calgary, Alta., warns guests that the baby falcons will be nesting until the fall of 2017. (Ken Crebbin)

"They're young birds so they wont breed until two years of age, but we're hoping that they will survive," Campbell said.

"I did see a pair mating on the Suncor Building, so we have a pair down there. If they were that far along, they would be certainly tempted to nest. So if anybody knows where they are, they would be within a building or two of that."

The baby falcons have been fed dead pigeons to make sure the birds know what they will be after once they take flight.

Campbell said he thinks this could be a mutually beneficial arrangement for both the falcons and the hospital.