Wandering Hurricane: A Peregrine Falcon Story

By Tracy Maconachie

By Tracy Maconachie | October 2, 2016

In spring of 2009, an adult peregrine falcon was spotted at the old Smiley Face Water Tower in downtown Grand Forks. A North Dakota falcon watcher and photographer managed to take a few photos of the bird’s legband and called Manitoba falcon watchers to ask if the peregrine was one of ours. She was.

Sightings of these migrating predators are treasures to those who follow them.  When March arrives, even with the cold and the snow, the light changes and falcon watchers are compelled to check cliff faces and the edges of tall buildings in urban areas.  They are hoping – waiting – to catch sight of a tell-tale falcon silhouette on the skyline.  It means the peregrines have come home.

The peregrine falcon lives on every continent except Antarctica.  Know as the fastest creature on the planet, some subspecies also migrate very long distances.  In fact, their name, peregrinus means “traveller” or “wanderer”.  North American peregrines are definitely long-distance wanderers.  Peregrines from southern Canada overwinter in Central and northern South America, while Canada’s tundra peregrines can travel up 25,000 km round-trip between Chile and their Arctic nestsites each year.

The Grand Forks visitor was a particularly special Manitoba-born falcon known as Hurricane. Since 1989, peregrines have been returning to nest in Manitoba. At the end of March 2007, the first peregrine appeared on a ledge at the Radisson Hotel in Winnipeg, joined a couple of days later by her mate. After a month of rest, relaxation and romance, four eggs were incubating in a nestbox thirty stories above the streets of downtown Winnipeg.

By the beginning of June, to the delight of millions of webcam viewers around the world, the eggs hatched and the lives of the next generation of Manitoba peregrines began. It took only 40 days for the chicks to take their first flight. First flights, or fledging, are always scary, and that year southern Manitoba was plagued by powerful storms including Canada’s first F5 tornado just west of Winnipeg.  For luck, the chicks were named after winds – Hurricane, Chinook, Taku and Mistral.

Hurricane was the first of the four chicks to fly and she learned quickly how to stay safe in all weather conditions.  By the middle of August, Hurricane had learned how to hunt and she left Winnipeg and her family to explore on her own.  At that age, Manitoba peregrine fledglings can be found wandering from Alberta to northwestern Ontario and down into North Dakota.

It isn’t until the end of September/early October that all the peregrines, adults and fledglings, begin their southward migration.  Manitoba peregrines like Hurricane appear to prefer to head for Texas and then either fly across the Gulf of Mexico or follow the Mexican coastline further south.  Manitoba peregrines have been identified overwintering from Mexico to Brazil and on a number of Caribbean Islands.  They seem to prefer national parks or other protected areas where they can hunt and roost safely over the winter months before heading back north again in late January/early February.

Hurricane had survived her first migration south (plus three more since then) and was now within two hours driving time of her birthplace in Winnipeg.  Would she stay in Grand Forks? Would she come back to Winnipeg?  Or would she go somewhere else? The answer came 10 days later, when she became the resident female at the McKenzie Seeds Building in Brandon, two hours west of Winnipeg.  Since then, Hurricane has had two mates, raised eleven chicks and made nine more north/south migrations.

Hurricane continues to wander. The last sighting of her in 2014 was at the end of September when she left Brandon for the eighth time.  Come next March, we’ll be watching and hoping our wanderer comes home again.

Special thanks for this story to Tracy Maconachie, Project Coordinator for the Manitoba Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project.

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