Where pigeons fear to flock: Toronto's falcon-patrolled airport

Toronto International Airport had a problem with congested air traffic. The runways were handling the airplanes all right, but flocks of gulls and pigeons were more than airport officials could handle.

Birds on runways are dangerous because they can be pulled into the jet engines, and at Toronto, even shotgun blasts were being ignored by the feisty flocks.

That's when Birdstrike, a firm owned by falconer John Slaytor, entered the picture.

''The falcon is a natural enemy and instinct tells (other birds) to get away when they see one coming,'' Mr. Slaytor explains.

Birdstrike has a two-year $150,000 contract to keep birds off Toronto's runways. A falconer is on duty from dawn to dusk, seven days a week.

And Slaytor is negotiating with the Japanese to train falconers for their airports. He is also looking at the other airports in Canada - Ottawa's Uplands and Montreal's Dorval and Mirabel - which to date haven't any bird controls.

Military bases in England have been using falcons to keep their runways clear since 1965, and Slaytor would like to introduce falconry to American military air bases.

''There is more danger from birds in the fast military jets,'' he says, ''because of their speed and power.''

Slaytor, who was born in London, came to Canada five years ago and created the Bird of Prey Center at the Lion Safari in Rockton, Ontario, which he managed until 1980.

Now at his school, which he runs in addition to his firm, he is teaching techniques in the art of falconry. He also is involved in the domestic breeding of birds of prey, such as the endangered peregrine falcon, and is helping rehabilitate injured birds of all species, successfully releasing them back into their natural habitat.

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