Joining Canuck the Crow among local birds employed this year, raptors have found work in a pilot program launched to scare off pigeons who have grown too comfortable along Metro Vancouver’s massive SkyTrain system.
Until the end of January, falcons, hawks and their handlers will be regularly visiting six stations along the Expo and Millennium lines, after a six-week, $18,000 “falconer pilot program” was launched this week to tackle ongoing health and safety threats posed by the feral birds.
“The real goal is to try and find a humane way of deterring pigeons,” said Jeff Lee, facilities manager for the B.C. Rapid Transit Company that maintains the Expo and Millennium SkyTrain lines. “Pigeons cause a lot of problems.”
Their droppings are linked to three human diseases — histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis and psittacosis. And when the birds enter the track area, they can trigger motion-detecting alarms and bring trains to a screeching halt, potentially sending riders flying.
In 2017, about 20 per cent of SkyTrain intrusion-alarm delays were caused by birds on the track, which caused a total of 142 trip delays, TransLink spokeswoman Aliya Mohamed said in an email.
Almost all of the bird delays were caused specifically by pigeons and half occurred at Renfrew station, Lee said.
BCRTC has used netting and spikes to keep pigeons away from tracks and from riders in the past, but the birds are clever, Lee said.
“They’ll push the spikes away so that they can roost and they can just hang out there,” he said.
Netting has been effective but a lot of it is required — at great cost — and the pigeons have penetrated some weak spots.
“So we figured the best way to do it is to have a falcon,” Lee said. “The falcon’s a natural predator, so it’s really that main scare tactic that we’re using.”
The pilot program, which launched Dec. 18, will be conducted Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Renfrew, Rupert, Holdom, VCC, Burrard and 22nd Street stations, all popular pigeon perches.
BCRTC has partnered with the Maple Ridge firm Raptors Ridge Birds of Prey, whose handlers walk through and around the stations with tethered falcons or hawks. When the pigeons spot the raptors, the frightened birds immediately scat.
The program is exploring whether raptors are an effective deterrent and how often they’ll need to be deployed. Lee said that on Friday two raptors kept away a flock of pigeons for about 90 minutes.
Over time, the pigeons will start expecting raptors at the stations, even though they’ll be deployed less frequently.
“We’re hoping it will be on a planned schedule and they would go up and down the entire system as a scare tactic,” Lee said.
Lee said the birds pose no threat to humans or other birds, and will remain tethered to their handlers for the duration of each scare session.
Kim Kamstra, co-owner of Raptors Ridge, visited Burrard station Friday with his peregrine falcon, Avro, and was joined by fellow falconer Kane Dunne who brought Tony, a Harris’s hawk.
The moment the two raptors showed up, dozens of pigeons perched atop the station’s Burrard Street exit flapped into the horizon, unharmed but fearful they might become dinner.
Kamstra said Raptors Ridge’s birds have worked at vineyards, orchards, landfill sites, waste water treatment plants and on Granville Island. His facility has 30 birds, including owls, hawks and falcons. Some are rehabilitated rescues or featured in educational programs for children, but most are working birds like Avro and Tony.
“This is nature providing a natural element of predator-prey relationship,” Kamstra said.
“The other birds don’t want to be hanging around a natural predator. It works extremely well — nature working with nature.”
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