Rare bald eagles nesting in Hamilton

On the brink of extinction for years, two rare bald eagles have been calling Cootes Paradise home.
A pair of bald eagles have made Cootes Paradise their home. (Courtesy Royal Botanical Gardens)

Two rare bald eagles have made Hamilton their home after facing near extinction for decades.

The eagles first nested in Cootes Paradise at the Royal Botanical Gardens in 2009 and have nested every summer since, although they have yet to lay any eggs.

"Hopefully one day soon they’ll have young," Tys Theysmeyer, head of natural lands at the RBG, said.

"The first two years they were too young. The last two years are a little more puzzling. If they don’t have any young next year then we must have an issue with their ability to reproduce, which is entirely possible."

(Courtesy Royal Botanical Gardens)

Theysmeyer pointed to pollution as a likely factor affecting the birds’ reproduction — it wouldn’t be the first time. Decades ago, the pesticide DDT leached through the food chain, causing egg shell softness and whittled down the eagle population to all but four active nests in all of the Great Lakes by the early 1980s.

With stricter restrictions on pesticide use, the eagle population slowly began to recover. Today, there is a growing, healthy population of the eagles, with more than 60 nests across the Great Lakes and the numbers are increasing every year, according to Theysmeyer.

When the pair first appeared, the RBG did everything it could to encourage the birds to nest, including construction of a platform and a base nest. It worked and though they haven’t had young, the eagles appear to be here to say. In fact, it’s likely another pair could show up in the area in the future, Theysmeyer said.

"The odds for another pair are extremely good. We have enough territory, we think, for three pairs in Hamilton."

The Hamilton region is part of a migratory flight path for smaller birds and home to many species of fish, making it a prime location for the eagles, which prey on fish and birds.

The eagles stay in the area during the winter and can be spotted flying overhead across Cootes Paradise as they hunt. The best viewing spot if you hope to catch a glimpse of these rare birds is the T.B McQuesten Memorial lookout, according to Theysmeyer, although our CBC photographer wasn’t so lucky.

"Four out of the last six times I’ve been out there I’ve seen them," Theysmeyer said.

"I guess they’re just camera shy."