There really is no other way to start this post. Hart has been our first bird back each year for almost a decade and often one of the last birds to leave each fall. He doesn’t fight, he courts all the ladies, he has protected his family through every kind of weather, against all invaders and has provided for them diligently. Today our gentle romantic died.
I don’t know how or why Hart died. I know he was found dead near a popular pigeon hunting spot – one he used to visit when he was the resident male in the Logan Territory. As such, he has hunted there for years and the only way I think he could have died here was by accident – a zig rather than a zag. The crew working on-site were great about notifying me as soon as they found him and I suspect he’d been dead, maybe an hour, maybe less when they called. There are other options – maybe he succumbed to avian flu which I wouldn’t like to think of him going through but it does need to be a consideration this year. Another option that needs to be considered is that he ran afoul of another bird. This I dislike as well because the only bird currently in town with a history of harassing other birds is, I’m afraid, Ella. Never would have thought an accidental death might be the lesser of other evils.
Hart hatched in 2012 at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Winnipeg and was the son of Ivy and Princess. Hart is the son of Ivy, grandson of Trey, great-grandson of T-Rex and great-great-grandson of Pop & Maud, our original nesting pair making him the fifth generation in a line of successful nesting pairs. He was named after Eva Hart a child survivor of the Titanic. Eva’s father was a builder who had decided to emigrate to Winnipeg to open a tobacco shop. 2012 was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and Hart and his brother Fleet were named to commemorate this event. Their other brother McDermot was named for the 200th anniversary of the Red River Settlement and his sister Jubilee in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond (60th) Jubilee. Of the four chicks, Hart was the only one to return to nest successfully.
When Hart returned to town, it was at the Logan nestsite in October 2013 on his way down south for the winter. Little did we know he’d be back the following year and that he would become in many ways the heart of Winnipeg’s peregrine population. His first nesting season back in town, he returned bright and early to the Radisson but left when his parents, Princess and Ivy, returned to reclaim the nestbox. He moved to the Logan Territory where there was a female named Jolicoeur whose mate hadn’t returned. Joli (as we called her) was a wild-hatched female from Fargo, North Dakota and this was her second year at Logan. Hart and Joli had four chicks together – Pip, Squeak, Will and Tory – named after World War I medals in honour of the 100th Anniversary of the start of the War. Pip has gone on to be the resident male at the Radisson Hotel since 2017 and Squeak is the resident female at the Bell Tower in Edmonton.
Hart returned bright and early in 2015, again to the Radisson but only very briefly before heading off to make the acquaintance of some young lady peregrines at West Winnipeg and Logan. All our resident pairs arrived en masse and once Joli arrived, he quickly settled down with her at the Logan nestsite. Again they had four chicks, all males this time. The chicks, Cole and Oscar, were blown off the nestledge during a horrendous storm on the July long weekend and because they were inexperienced they couldn’t get back to the ledge and died. Their brother Calloway was also blown off, but he survived and was rescued from a window ledge the following day. Unfortunately, a month and a bit later, he zigged when he should have zagged and collided with a building and died. The last of the four, Django, managed to survive storm after storm and migrated out of the province without incident. To-date, we haven’t had any reports of him.
No spring fling at the Radisson in 2016 as the resident male, Smiley from Grand Forks, arrived home much earlier than usual. But that didn’t slow Hart down, he moved over to West Winnipeg to introduce himself to Faith, the resident female there. Despite their torrid liaison, Hart returned to Joli when she turned up at the Logan nestsite. For the third year in a row, they had four chicks – Windsor, Mountbatten, Philip and Elizabeth – named in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s status as the world’s longest reign monarch. There were no incidents this year making it one of the quietest on record at Logan. A couple of years later, Elizabeth returned to town and began a two-year affair with a very attentive male named Daer, unfortunately they never nested.
2017 was a year of wild and crazy storms. A surprise snow dump in late April hit the Logan nestbox harder than any of our other sites. Hart more than proved his dedication to Joli and his yet-to-hatch family by staying stuck to his eggs even as the snow fell and fell and fell. We undertook a rescue to dig out their nest not knowing if they had chicks or eggs. Trying to keep chicks warm and dry under these conditions would have been impossible, despite their commitment. Fortunately they had eggs and by staying on them Hart had created a warm, dry dome around them all. Larger than Hart, Joli had trouble fitting into the space he had created, she could just get her breast onto her eggs to keep them warm. With a little help from us, Hart and Joli were able to incubate much more easily. All four of their chicks hatched – three females and one male. We named them Jennifer, Jessie, June & Jack after Joli. Just after banding, there was a day with very gusty winds and one of the female chicks, June, was blown off the ledge and landed hard and broke her leg – an unusual injury. While she was under anaesthetic to repair her leg, the vet found that she had other serious injuries and we made the difficult decision to euthanize her. Her brother Jack and sisters Jennifer and Jessie all fledged without incident then returned to the nestbox when we added a younger chick to be fostered by Hart and Joli. Bridget had fallen, or was bumped out of her nest, and shortly after she went down, her mother Bristol had died, we believe feeding her. We were able to rescue Bridget and amazingly she was uninjured. We would have had great difficulty returning her to her nest and returning her may have put her two siblings at risk – with only one parent to support them, a third mouth to feed may have risked them all. So we placed her with her grandmother Joli and Hart and her fledgline aunts and uncle came back to the nest to keep her company until she too fledged 10 days later. In the fall, the kids, Bridget included, migrated without incident. As did Bridget’s siblings back home. Just after Hart migrated, we found Joli dead near the nestsite. In November, Bridget was photographed looking sassy on a beach on San Padre Island in Texas. Her foster sister/aunt Jennifer returned three years later to nest at the Selkirk Hydro Station and her Jessie nested in Saskatoon in 2022.
Hart’s return the following year included a heavy spring romance with Faith at West Winnipeg, a 2013 wild-hatched female from Duluth, Minnesota, until her mate returned. Then he met Spencer, a 2013 wild-hatch from the McKenzie Seeds in Brandon. Spencer and her previous mate Loki (an older brother of Hart) never nested successfully but with Hart, she finally managed to incubate 4 eggs to hatching – or three at least. The problem came after. After the chicks hatch they have to be fed in the first six hours. However, Spencer’s maternal instinct didn’t kick in after her first chick hatched and then her second and when she wouldn’t accept any help from Hart, we intervened and removed her first two chicks hoping to save them. We failed to save the first but with round-the-clock care from Prairie Wildlife Rehab, we were able to save the second. When her third and fourth eggs hatch, Spencer finally got the memo and began doing everything she should and her last two chicks thrived. Through it all, Hart was a constant presence and a source of killdeer – we still don’t know how he found so many Killdeer to hunt. Their second chick spent 14 days at Prairie Wildlife and then we reintroduced to the siblings in his nestbox and except for the difference in their size, it was like he’d never left – and the size difference had mostly disappeared after a few weeks. We named this chick Potter, after Harry Potter, the boy who lived, because of the time he spent in an incubator away from home with songbird chicks for companions. Potter’s siblings, perhaps not surprisingly (for those familiar with the Potterverse), were named Luna and Sirius. All three chicks fledged within hours of each other and caused their fair share of chaos around the nestsite for a few days. Potter had to be retrieved from a member of the public who thought he would make a cool pet. Luna and Sirius managed to stay a little out of reach. A month later all were doing well and life was getting easier for Hart and Joli as the chicks began to hunt on their own. Then Sirius collided with a building near the nestsite and died shortly thereafter in rehab. The rest of the family migrated out, Hart last as per usual, without incident. We haven’t had any reports of Luna or Potter, but we do hope someday to hear that one of them has survived to raise young of their own.
It should come as no surprise that our first bird back in 2019 was once again, Hart. Shortly thereafter, Ella came home and they “dated” at the Radisson, West Winnipeg and Logan nestsites before Ella hooked up with her mate at West Winnipeg and Hart settled back down with Spencer at Logan. The year turned out to be much the same as 2018 for Hart’s family with one exception. Pip and his new mate Fiona chose to nest on the east side Radisson nestledge this year and the ledge cam is difficult to stream online. So we decided to take advantage of a wonderful new camera Eye-Spy had installed on the Logan nestbox. The opportunity to watch Hart and Spencer up close was amazing even if it almost didn’t happen.
Having finally had a successful, albeit assisted, first family, we hoped that Spencer’s maternal instincts had finally been rebooted, unfortunately they once again were slow to kick in. Their first three eggs hatched within hours of each other and at the 6 hour mark when they hadn’t been fed, we again intervened, at first trying to feed the chicks on-site with the hope that we could return them immediately to Spencer. But they were too weak and once again Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation stepped in with their expert assistance and the experience from last year to help get the chicks through the first few days at least. But it was not to be and all three chicks died within hours. By the time Hart’s and Spencer’s last egg hatched, Spencer was raring to go and she was an exceedingly doting mother to the chick we named Sadie after Sadie Grim a Winnipeg teenager who made motorcycling history in 1914.
We thought that with a name like that she would have the grit and determination to survive whatever life threw at her. We were right, Sadie returned in 2021 to challenge Etta, Sundance’s mate in the Fidler Territory. Etta held on we think more by size than anything else but we wouldn’t be surprised to learn in the future that Sadie has established herself somewhere else. Early in the autumn, Spencer was found dead near the Logan nestsite, perhaps due to colliding with a building, but we couldn’t say for sure. We liked Spencer when she was in the zone, but when she was out of it, it was very difficult, despite Hart’s attempts to help.
In 2020, there were shake-ups at our three most active nests in Winnipeg. Fiona at the Radisson was replaced by Ella from West Winnipeg when her mate failed to return. With Spencer dead, Hart moved over to the West Winnipeg nestsite (the nestsites in town have a ranking for the peregrines). Arriving home early (again) Hart visited the Radisson only a couple of times before the whole family arrived home ahead a weather change. He did manage to reconnect with last year’s spring fling Ella (who is Spencer’s younger sister) briefly before Pip returned and Ella’s eyes were all for Pip. Or so we thought. First she visited Hart from time to time soliciting food from him the way a new potential mate would. And being the romantic gentleman Hart obliged. Then Ella started to get a wee bit territorial either over former nestsite and/or her former casual boyfriend. Either way it meant that while Hart was doing his best to attract eligible young ladies, Ella was determined he remain a bachelor.
When her chicks at the Radisson hatched, she was still begging food from Hart even though Pip provided her and their chicks with a steady diet of a variety of prey. The food begging shifted to a full-out campaign to keep any female peregrines from joining Hart at West Winnipeg. I counted 6 different females on camera alone from May through July, who knows how many young, or not-so-young, ladies didn’t get as far as the edge of his nestbox. We watched time after time as Ella buzzed the rooftop and harassed and dive-bombed any visitors. And still Hart kept the scrape in his nestbox fresh and well-maintained and kept trying to attract the ladies. Ella won out in the end, raising 2 chicks with Pip at the Radisson and keeping Hart a bachelor at West Winnipeg. Hart left early that year, not surprising given no lady friend or chicks to show for his months of hard work.
2021 started out very well. Hart arrived early of course and spent almost two weeks courting Ella at the Radisson nestbox. Pip’s return home meant that Hart had to leave and we feared there might be a repeat of last year. We got lucky in the form of Esme, a very handsome, unbanded large female peregrine who like the cut of Hart’s jib and took up residence with him at West Winnipeg at about the same time as Ella’s mate Pip arrived. Ella was busy cementing her pair bond with Pip and cementing her control of the Radisson nestsite to do much about the young hussy Hart was courting. We named Hart’s unbanded mate Esme which means “loved” and “esteemed”. Hart’s first mate was Jolicoeur, who’s name translated means “sweetheart”. We hoped that Esme and Hart could replicate his success and stability with Joli. And they did, raising two female chicks with little fuss. When we went to band the chicks, they were a few days older than we had hoped – the West Winnipeg nestbox cam had had a meltdown just as the season was starting so we hadn’t been able to keep our usual close-eye on the family. At one point we thought we might need to chase the little terrors but in the end they were banded with only a minimum of blood loss (ours) and hearing loss (again ours). We named them Thelma and Louise. Both chicks fledged without incident and were often seen cruising around the nestsite. Unfortunately in August, Louise was involved in an aircraft strike at Winnipeg International Airport. Damage to the plane was minimal (as these things go), there was no injury or danger to the public and the airport staff were able to notify us of her death. Of Thelma, there has been no reports, but it is early days yet and she may yet come bombing back into our lives yet. Esme migrated out at the end of the summer, but Hart, he hung around, not surprisingly at the Radisson, until early October.
The peregrine season this year began, unsurprisingly, with Hart perched on the edge of the Radisson nestbox in the snow. Next back was a female who was definitely not Ella but didn’t quite seem like Esme. And it wasn’t, it was a new unbanded female, one we have named Dot for two small dots on her face below her eye. Dot and Hart were getting very comfortable (and very frisky) at the Radisson when Pip returned and it was time for Hart to leave again. We thought that Dot, being new to town and not yet pair-bonded with Hart, would stay and try her luck with Pip – the Radisson is the premier nestsite in town after all. But she didn’t, she followed Hart to West Winnipeg just a day or two before Ella returned. Our eternally hopeful romantic finally met a lady who wanted him over a chance for prime real estate. As Dot and Hart were settling in for another round of courting at West Winnipeg, Ella returned home to find Pip waiting and Hart off the market. The huge amounts of snow we got this spring were bad enough for the Radisson pair, but holy cats, it was like an avalanche at West Winnipeg. Didn’t seem to phase Dot and Hart – they kept their scrape, dry and warm through it all. And when the snow melted, they were ready to lay eggs. We don’t know how many eggs they laid, we only know that at banding time, there were two chicks in the nestbox and no sign of any unhatched eggs. A male and a female, as yet unnamed and surprisingly a few days older than both the Radisson and McKenzie Seeds chicks. It usually takes longer for a new pair to go through the pre-egg courtship ritual, and while Dot and Hart took their time, they were obviously committed to nesting right from the start. And the chicks were in good condition – fast and feisty like chicks should be and a bit on the small size, something that is common in Hart’s family and which seems to serve them well as adults.
And then the call came. A banded bird thought to be a peregrine had been found dead, not too far one of his favourite hunting grounds. I couldn’t see the coloured band at first, and then I did and my heart sank. How could Hart be dead? He was the heart of our project. Yes he was 10 years old, older than the average age of peregrines in the wild, but these had been his stomping grounds for the last decade, he knew every inch of this place. It was all so sad. Hart was the most beautiful of our current peregrines and the only kindness was that his beauty remained even death. What made him Hart was gone of course, and we are all the poorer for it.