Are falcon poachers a thing of the past?

  • May. 21, 2003 6:00 p.m.

Twenty years ago, conservation officers were appealing to islanders for help to prevent poaching of the coveted Peale’s falcon, a subspecies of the peregrine falcon found chiefly on the islands. It was thought at the time that the remoteness of the Charlottes offered plenty of opportunities for stealing the eggs and young birds of the valuable species.
“All through the 70s and right up to ’81, it was a priority in the district to patrol the west coast to protect the falcons,” said conservation officer James Hilgemann.
In one incident that Mr. Hilgemann has recorded on file, a conservation officer wrote that two German visitors removed eight falcon eggs from nests on the east coast of Moresby Island. The captain of the boat they’d chartered became aware of the incubator holding the eggs, but kept quiet because he feared he’d lose his boat and livelihood. The poachers sewed the eggs into pouches on the insides of their down vests and transported them off the islands by plane. The conservation officer became aware of the incident four weeks later, but couldn’t do much after the fact.
At one time, people were very concerned about poaching of falcons, but in hindsight there may not have been much poaching going on, said bird specialist Mike Chutter of the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection.
However, there was a legal harvest of falcon eggs and fledglings allowed here. That stopped after the results of an inquiry into falcons prompted by islanders’ concern about the practice, Mr. Chutter said. Currently, harvesting of wild peregrines is not allowed in BC.
Concern for peregrine falcons emerged in the 1960s and 70s when scientists discovered the chemical DDT was causing global declines in the Anatum subspecies of peregrine falcon, found on the mainland of North America and Europe, Mr. Hilgemann said.
The islands’ falcon population was also affected by introduced species, he added. Raccoons and black rats would eat the eggs of ground nesting birds that are the falcons’ natural prey. This was especially true on Langara Island, where rats have since been eradicated.
The provincial government wildlife branch does a census of falcons on the islands every five years. The next census will be in 2005, Mr. Hilgemann said.