This hilarious headline got my attention this morning. Check the story out at the Toronto Star
Bitchy the hawk: The most famous working bird in the GTA
The Harris hawk’s fearsome reputation in seagull circles intimidates the junk-food scavengers enough to keep them away from Molson Amphitheatre and BMO Field.
From her perch high atop the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre on a summer evening, Bitchy the hawk surveys the scene.
It’s a concert day at the outdoor music venue, a prime chance for the packs of seagulls roaming the blue skies above Toronto to score an easy meal.
Bitchy is all that stands between these white-winged thieves and their unwitting targets — throngs of John Mayer fans, happily munching on pizza and French fries on the grassy knoll below.
Despite her razor-sharp talons and eaglelike eyesight, the 13-year-old bird of prey is not a real threat. A short leash, attached to her legs, keeps her close to her perch near the edge of the roof.
But the gulls don’t know Bitchy’s secret. With one glimpse of the black-and-brown Harris hawk, they abruptly change course. A few circle back for another look, but none dare descend below her position.
In this metropolis by the lake, where daring gulls and other nuisance birds compete for ever-shrinking space, Bitchy is part of a little-known battalion of falcons, eagles and hawks that keeps the peace, everywhere from office tower rooftops to Pearson International Airport.
Arguably the most famous working bird in the GTA, Bitchy began wielding her statuesque might at the Amphitheatre last year.
But the hawk named for her cantankerous demeanour is best-known at nearby BMO Field, where she has been a fixture on the roof during Toronto Football Club (TFC) games since 2007, when it became apparent that the newly minted soccer club was a magnet for fans — and gulls.
“They were everywhere, and just brazen,” said Paul Beirne, TFC’s vice-president of business operations. “People were complaining that birds were literally dive-bombing, and taking French fries out of their containers.”
Beirne called Steritech, a Charlotte, N.C.-based pest-control company that counts Bitchy among its charges. The results, he said, were immediate.
“She’s a very elegant solution because … you can see all these gulls circling, but they’re circling above her height,” he said. “They know that she’s a predator, and they don’t mess with her.”
Unlike the falcons that soar over the runway at Pearson, actively frightening and sometimes eating unwanted guests, Bitchy wields her power through stony intimidation.
Gulls are instinctively aware that a hawk is a predator that is dangerous when it has a height advantage.
“The gulls are leery to come below, so it’s really just the hawk’s presence and position that resolves the issue,” said Mike Givlin, vice-president of the North American bird program at Steritech. “We exploit the predator-prey relationship.”
(For competitive reasons, Givlin would not disclose Bitchy’s rate, but he said most professional services charge more than $100 per hour.)
Captive-bred in the rural environs of Delhi, Ont., Bitchy was reared by her parents for about two months before Givlin started training her.
Most Harris hawks, native to the Southwestern U.S., are even-tempered. But from the outset, she was prone to moodiness, sometimes digging her talons into Givlin’s glove and emitting a low-pitched, guttural growl.
Using food-based rewards (raw baby chicks and quail are big hits), Givlin taught Bitchy to get used wearing leashes on her legs and sitting on his arm.
For the past four years, the 1-kilogram hawk has lived with her current handler, Rob Wernaart, on a large acreage near Milton, where she was recently joined by a young Harris hawk called Xena.
After she started at BMO Field, the soccer club was concerned her moniker was not exactly family-friendly and held a naming contest. But fans chose to stick with Bitchy. She is now featured in the opening show at games, as well as the TFC Academy logo.
“She really is a bit of a mascot for the club,” Beirne said. “We’ve fallen in love with Bitchy.”
At the Amphitheatre on Wednesday, Wernaart carried Bitchy in a ventilated cardboard box through a back entrance and up a series of ladders to the roof, where dozens of little white splatters and a few chicken bones offered evidence of the gulls known to roost there. But while she held court, the roof, food stalls, grass and seated areas remained gull-free.
Just after 8:30 p.m., Wernaart returned to the roof to retrieve her. Even amid the urban bustle of Toronto, darkened skies could make Bitchy vulnerable to a great-horned owl, or some other, bigger predator, he said.
Although Bitchy’s silhouette was clearly visible from the grass below, few concertgoers seemed to notice until Wernaart untied her tether and mounted her on his arm, soliciting a few cheers.