From Fluff to Flight: The Peregrine Falcons of Cabrini Centre
September 8, 2023
By Peter Rybar, Social Media and Storytelling Advisor, Covenant Health
Jackie Simpson, a unit manager at the Misericordia Community Hospital, has been observing a family of peregrine falcons that has made their home atop the Cabrini Centre for years. From her office on the sixth floor of the hospital, she has a direct view of the falcons’ rooftop nesting box.
"They start off as big balls of fluff and develop into these amazing falcons,” she says. “It’s just fascinating to watch them grow and develop."
The nesting box at the Cabrini Centre has been a falcon residence since 1996. This year, three fledglings — two males and a female —were born. The father has a special connection to the area as he was rescued as a fledgling in 2020 at the University of Alberta nesting box site.
The Edmonton Peregrine Falcon FledgeWatch, a volunteer-led organization, has been vigilantly monitoring the birds. It helps to ensure the safety of the fledglings, especially during their vulnerable early days.
"It’s such a privilege to watch them fly and interact,” says Janice Hurlburt, a volunteer and co-ordinator for the group. “Watching midair food transfers between the parents is thrilling for me."
On July 22, one of the male fledglings went missing. For five tense days, Janice and the FledgeWatch team searched for him. Finally, they received a tip from a neighbouring construction crew and managed to locate and capture the bird for safe transport to another site outside the city.
Janice later learned from Joe Csandl, a supervisor for ARPI’S NORTH INC., the company responsible for mechanical work at the Misericordia hospital’s new emergency department construction next door to the Cabrini Centre, that the fledgling had been trapped in a boiler chimney during the five days he was missing.
Joe had been informed by a team member about strange animal-like noises coming from inside one of the boilers at the new emergency department. He and his team were able to peer down the boiler chimney from the roof and confirm that it was, in fact, a falcon that had become trapped. After several attempts, they managed to pull him up through the chimney and release him.
Luckily, during the time the fledgling was stuck, there was no need for heat in the building. Had there been a call for heat, Joe knows things would have ended badly for the young falcon. “It would have been a nasty way to go if that boiler kicked on,” he says. “That's 800-degree hot air going up that chimney … nothing would have survived.”
The female fledgling was rescued in the Cabrini parking lot by the FledgeWatch team. It had been blown off the top of the Cabrini Centre on a night with heavy winds, before the young falcon was ready to fledge on her own. Jackie was just arriving for her morning shift when the rescue had been made, and she got a chance to get an up-close look at her. There was no need to rescue the second male fledgling, who continued to fly around the area with his parents throughout August.
For Jackie, news of the falcons’ safety was heartening. She often engages her patients in falcon-watching, providing them with a sense of purpose during their hospital stay.
“We have a lot of elderly patients who sometimes need something to do," she says. "It's great to say to them, 'Hey, look, you know that's a nesting box, and I need you to keep an eye on them.' It gives them something to look forward to.”