News / Vancouver

TransLink finds success using falcons to scare pigeons away from SkyTrains

Pigeons caused 142 SkyTrain delays in 2017

When pigeons see Avro the peregrine falcon, they flee.

It’s a smart move: not only are peregrine falcons the fastest animal on earth, capable of reaching speeds of 390 km per hour in a dive, but pigeons are a staple food source for peregrines in downtown Vancouver.

That’s the kind of predator-prey relationship TransLink hopes to tap into to keep SkyTrain stations free of pigeons, which caused 142 train delays in 2017.

As part of a new six-week Translink pilot project Avro has been riding the SkyTrain everyday with his handler, Kim Kamstra, scaring pigeons away from the tracks and stations by simply looking at them.

On any given morning in December, Kamstra says there would be more than 70 pigeons at 22nd Station in New Westminster. Three weeks into the pilot project, there are none.

“Instinctually it’s a predator-prey relationship," he said.

"But it’s humane because [Avro] is tethered to my fist. He’s not flying off to kill any animals. The smart pigeons exit really quickly.”

It’s the first method that has worked, according to Vivienne King, president of SkyTrain.

“We’ve tried nets, we’ve tried spikes, we’ve even tried mimicking the sounds of the falcons … and the pigeons keep coming back.”

But so far, the fear of a real falcon has kept them away, said Kamstra.

The pair start their day at 22nd station, then ride the train to VCC-Clark, Burrard, Renfrew, Rupert, and Holdom. At each stop, Kamstra walks around the station with Avro perched on his fist.

“We start travelling to each station randomly because that’s very upsetting to the pigeons, knowing this predator shows up randomly,” he said.

But the pigeons will eventually realize Avro is not actively hunting any of them, said Kamstra.

“Surprise,” he said. “I’ll change birds.”

Kamstra co-owns Raptors Ridge Birds of Prey Inc. and has 20 working birds in his roost. He brought another falcon to various SkyTrain stations on Tuesday to keep the pigeons “on their toes,” he explained.

He says he has more than enough raptors and handlers to patrol the entire SkyTrain network, but it will be up to TransLink whether to expand or even continuing funding the program.

Three visits to each station every day for six weeks is costing Translink $18,000, according to King.

When the project ends on January 28, staff will then analyze the resulting data and bring it to the board, who will decide whether the project is worth continuing.

But no matter what the decision is, there is one thing both animal welfare advocates and SkyTrain are asking people to do – stop feeding the pigeons.

“The problem is we deal with all of this, the pigeons move on, and then people feed the birds,” said King.

A sign at Burrard Station warns people that feeding birds is against the law. Not only does it attract pigeons back to the site, but it is also bad for pigeons’ health, and the health of bigger animals that eat pigeons, said Kamstra.

“Please, please, don’t feed the birds,” said King.

“We’re trying to make the system a little safer for everyone.”

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