The large number of seagulls at Darlington not only increased the risk to staff of being hit by droppings, but also the risk of aggressive dive-bombings. The troublesome gulls were also making a mess of station property and outdoor equipment.
After his plan was cleared, Kassouf was allowed to bring his two Harris’s hawks and a falcon onto the Darlington property over six days. In that time, Kassouf’s birds spread their wings and struck an intimidating presence. By the fifth day, not a single seagull was spotted in the skies over Darlington.
“What I was able to do was just exercise the birds. They enjoy the chase, just like a dog likes chasing a squirrel,” Kassouf said. “They weren’t in hunting mode.”
Which is a good thing for the gulls, as Kassouf's birds have been trained to hunt in the wild with great speed and accuracy, tackling game like rabbits and ducks. Kassouf's falcon, which weighs about 800 grams, can dive, or stoop, as fast as 300 km/h when honing in on a target. “It's a blink and you’ll miss it kind of thing,” he said. “You can’t see it.”
Kassouf, whose day job involves non-destructive testing of nuclear fuel channels, says he's always had a great interest in birds of prey. He took up the sport of falconry several years ago by buying his first hawk and has since developed a deep passion and bond with his birds, who dutifully return to their master at the blow of a whistle.
Early next year, Kassouf hopes to return to Darlington with his birds to ensure the seagulls stay away. The hope is to expand his unique technique to other OPG locations.
Employee spotlight: Woody Kassouf
Position: Electrical and Control Technician FLMA
Work location: Darlington Nuclear GS
Years of service: 12
Favourite place to visit in Ontario: Beckwith Island
Favourite book: Anything on falconry
Favourite hobbies: Fishing, hunting, and conservation