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Falcon Fever2:10

Watch CBC reporter David Common's 2005 story on Madame X.

Falcon Fever 2:10

Bill Buckland makes sure to take the King Street side each time he walks through Jackson Square. That way he can check in on Hamilton's favorite feathered friends: the Sheraton Hotel's resident peregrine falcons.

"It's something that you don't see too often," Buckland said, taking a look at the live webcam shot of the falcon's nest on a TV screen.

Hamiltonians are still patiently waiting for Madame X and Surge to produce new young. In the space of about 20 minutes, eight people stopped to check on their progress on the "nest cam" set up by Hamilton Falconwatch, an organization that keeps tabs on the birds. 

"Especially when the chicks are there, people will [stop] here all the time," said Mike Street, a volunteer Falconwatcher.

Madame X could lay eggs any day now, Street said. But since 2005, April 5 is the latest her eggs have ever come. He assures that she won't cave in to pressure, though.

"The very first year here in 1995, they didn't lay eggs until June," he said. "So it's really their schedule, not ours .... She'll do it when she wants to."

Street speculates that Madame X might be waiting until the weather warms before she brings her young into the world. He said when she's ready, she'll generate an egg which she can fertilize from a previous mating event.

"Once they start laying eggs, we'll get one about every 24 hours until they're finished. But last year, she laid two in 12 hours," Street said.

The 'clutch,' or group of eggs, will incubate for just over a month before the chicks hatch.

That's when the bulk of Falconwatch's work begins: an on-site coordinator and team of volunteers will spend at least 12 hours a day watching the little ones until they are ready to leave the nest.

"It's normally three weeks of watching, but it can stretch to four and has," Street said.  "If we have all males, then we're looking at three weeks. If we have one or more females, they weigh more so it takes longer for them to get confident enough to fly."

Falconwatch relies on grants and individual donations to fund the volunteer coordinator to pay such close attention to the birds, which are listed as a species of special concern in Canada.

Even with an operating budget of just under $5,000 including a small salary for the coordinator, Street isn't sure how much cash they'll have this year.

"It's paycheque to paycheque," he said. "The grants in the past have been enough to keep us going. This year I'm a little concerned."

The falcons have been nesting on the Sheraton for 19 years, and Street said Falconwatch has made 22 rescues since.

"Falcon watching is moments of terror and hours of boredom," he said of what they do, with a laugh. "The rescues can be scary, but all of the rescued [chicks] have survived."

On the screen in Jackson Square, onlookers watch Surge hop off the ledge and into the nest he helped make.

"He just grabbed a feather," Street points out. "Cleaning up the nest for the young."