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Endangered peregrine falcon gets second chance at rehab centre

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Miller, a 10-week-old peregrine falcon, perches on the hand of Erica Dimuzio, clinic manager of the Bluewater Centre for Raptor Rehabilitation. Glenn Ogilvie

It was Miller’s lucky day. Well, sort of.

After the baby peregrine falcon left its nest tucked high into the upper supports of the original Blue Water Bridge, he apparently attempted a high-speed dive, hit a car or truck and suffered a broken wing.

That wasn’t so lucky.

But Miller landed in the yard of a Christina Street home near Canatara Park, and someone covered him quickly with a laundry basket to prevent further harm.

Someone also knew to call the Bluewater Centre for Raptor Rehabilitation, the only place of its kind in the region where injured and orphaned birds have been rescued for nearly 25 years.

The centre’s Lynn Eves has had considerable experience with the rare peregrine falcons, having assisted several that ran into trouble after leaving their man-built nest on the U.S. side of the bridge.

“Once they fly across the border it’s nothing but red tape if we want to drive them back,” she said.  “Their only chance is if they are able to fly back on their own.”

It’s not clear if Miller will ever fly again. Eves has called in three veterinarians to examine the 10-week-old bird’s wing. It’s badly broken and inoperable, so Eves wrapped it and provided antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and daily physio. Miller is fed half a quail daily and is otherwise in very good health.

It’s been two weeks since the fall. The bandages are off and Eves will soon let him attempt to fly in a large cage at the rehab centre.

“If Miller can’t be released I’ll apply for a permit to keep him as an educational bird,” she said.

Peregrine falcons are an endangered species that usually nest in tall, steep cliffs near water and are renowned for their ability to dive at speeds up to 300 kilometres per hour.

They had all but disappeared because of toxic chemicals, especially DDT that weakened their egg shells. Thanks to conservation efforts and the banning of DDT the birds are making a comeback.

In 2005, a maintenance crew from the American side of the Blue Water Bridge spotted a number of peregrine falcons and approached now-retired customs officer Dan Miller about building them a nest.

The falcon nest is so high on the bridge it can’t be seen without field glasses. It appealed to the birds and they made it home within weeks, said Miller. The latest baby is named after himself.

There have been years when the female laid four to five eggs. Last year there were none, and this year only the one chick.

“I monitor the nest when the babies are there and I watch them when they are fledglings,” Miller said.

The day the young bird was injured he watched the female scour the area, flying back and forth searching for her offspring.

“She had food in her talons and she kept calling,” Miller said. “I was really sad to watch.”

Luckily, it wasn’t long before he received a call from Eves saying she’d rescued the baby.

Miller said the return of falcons and bald eagles to the Sarnia-Port Huron area is a sign of an improving ecosystem.

“It’s good that all these little creatures are coming back,” he said. “The peregrine falcon is at the top of the food chain so it’s a sign the entire food chain is healthier.”

Bluewater Centre for Raptor Rehabilitation is located on Egremont Road and operates on about $30,000 a year in donations. To contact founding director Lynn Eves, call 519-899-2443.

– Cathy Dobson

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