6 Oct 2012 | Ottawa Citizen | Dreevely@ottawacitizen.com | ottawacitizen.com/greaterottawa

City hires hawks to hunt gulls at landfill

Fewer avian pests thanks to green-bin program, birdwatchers say


The city spends more than $75,000 a year to hire birds to assassinate other birds at the "Trail Road landfill" a detail revealed in a routine contracting report. The bill for Predator Bird Services Inc. of London was $95,386 last year and is another $72,309 this year. The work is described as "professional services to undertake the raptor program at the Trail waste facility." It's one of dozens of small contracts city officials sign without asking for city councillors' specific permission and are revealed in a densely packed report delivered to council each quarter. Councillors ordinarily receive it without asking any questions.

The landfill in southwest Ottawa is the city's main dumping ground for residential garbage and attracts vermin, which birds of prey are happy to kill and eat. Rats and mice aren't really the problem, though, according to a written explanation from the city's manager of solid waste, Marilyn Journeaux, provided when the Citizen asked about the program. Wild hawks and eagles volunteer at the landfill to hunt those. The city’s problem is with seagulls, which Journeaux says are indifferent to the wild hunters and swarm the landfill to eat garbage alongside their wingless cohorts.

“The raptors used at Trail Road are specially trained to chase and potentially kill seagulls" Journeaux wrote. It works so well that the gulls scatter as soon as they see the bird-handler’s truck, she wrote.

“This program has been very effective in reducing the gull population at Trail Road.” There’s probably another factor, though, said Anouk Hoedeman, a bird enthusiast who co-ordinates Ottawa Falcon Watch, a part of the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club that monitors peregrine falcons that set up house on tall city buildings. That factor is the city’s green-bin program, which collects food and yard waste that used to go to the Trail Road landfill by the thousands of tonnes but is now trucked to a separate composting plant. There’s no longer supposed to be much at Trail Road for gulls to eat. “Ring-billed and herring gulls, which the city no doubt considers pests, used to congregate by the thousands at the Trail landfill,” she said by email. Those are two types of common gull. “Those numbers plummeted when the green bin program started diverting organic waste. Up until a couple of winters ago, the Trail landfill was a favourite place for birders to look for rare gulls during the winter. Not so anymore. Fewer gulls means there’s not much point in bringing in raptors to chase them off.” Wild hunters have made a comeback thanks to pesticide bans and the effects of climate change, Hoedeman wrote, plus the effects of deliberate conservation efforts. Peregrine falcons have been carrying out a quiet genocide of downtown pigeons, for instance. Crows, meanwhile, another frequent urban annoyance, have made a huge comeback since West Nile virus devastated them about a decade ago.