Hamiltonians pick the peregrine falcon, a creature with a long, local history, as city bird

The peregrine falcon has been elected as Hamilton’s unofficial city bird, after results from an online poll by Bird Friendly Hamilton Burlington were released this week. 

Meanwhile, Burlington chose the trumpeter swan. Both designations are unofficial, however

Judson, a male peregrine falcon, began perching on a ledge at Hamilton's Sheraton Hotel in 2021. The spot has seen the birds nest there for more than 25 years. (Hamilton FalconWatch/Facebook)

The peregrine falcon has been elected as Hamilton's unofficial city bird, after results from an online poll by Bird Friendly Hamilton Burlington were released this week. 

Barry Coombs, a member of the organization, told CBC Hamilton that even though the city bird is not an official designation, he still hopes the public can take something away from the vote. 

"The real goal of the whole project is to use [the] city bird as a symbolic project to … increase awareness of what we can do to make the city more bird-friendly."

The vote was part of a wider campaign by Nature Canada to make cities across the country bird-friendly. So far, two cities in Ontario — London and Toronto — have been certified bird-friendly by the charity.

The campaign is looking to have cities meet certain standards in order to protect and restore birds' natural habitat.

The northern cardinal, which is also London's official city bird, came in second place in Hamilton; while the red-tailed hawk landed in third place. 

In the same poll, Burlington also elected a city bird: the trumpeter swan. Runner-ups included the northern cardinal and the black-capped chickadee.

A history of falcons in the city

Hamilton has a long history with peregrine falcons. For at least 28 years, these birds have been nesting near the top of Hamilton's Sheraton Hotel.

They were first spotted in 1994 and, the following year, a pair of birds were found nesting on a ledge by the 18th floor, starting the long tradition of the falcons nesting downtown.

Christa Jackson, who is part of a Hamilton Falconwatch group said she was delighted the falcon was chosen to represent Hamilton.

"I was one of the people to suggest the peregrine as a possibility. The amount of people that are brought together by the Hamilton falcon watch as volunteers and interested people is always heartwarming."

Coombs said the birds are "famous" residents of the city.

"A lot of people are very fond of the peregrine falcons, so we weren't surprised to see the American peregrine falcon getting voted in. It's been a pretty popular bird around town."

A success story

Coombs also talked about the different spots in Hamilton where peregrine falcons can be found, such as the ones on the Burlington Canal Lift Bridge and the ones in Saltfleet Conservation Area in Stoney Creek. 

"They're sort of a conservation success story because they were in serious trouble due to a pesticide called DDT."

DDT is a chemical compound originally once used as a pesticide. It was banned in Canada in 1985 due to its environmental impacts. 

The chemical got into the peregrine falcon's diet, which made their eggshells very weak.

The poll had originally received 353 nominations in December, before 10 finalists for each city were narrowed down. 

Coombs said he hopes the recent vote will only mean the beginning of talks around bird conservation, including the expansion of the Lights Out program. The program encourages people to turn off their lights at night in order to reduce light pollution and help birds avoid crashing into buildings during migration season.

Trumpeter swan also has local history

Burlington's choice of the trumpeter swan also reveals a history with the bird in the area. 

"The choice of Trumpeter swan as Burlington's City Bird is quite fitting, not only for its beauty (particularly when this largest swan in the world takes flight), but also for its special connection to the city," read the post shared Monday. 

According to Coombs, these swans are native to the area, and were almost wiped out for a number of reasons, most notably their feathers. 

"Trumpeter swans have a special connection with Burlington, because, for many years now, a lot of trumpeter swans, over 100 usually, spend the winter at LaSalle Park in Burlington."

Coombs wanted to remind people, however, to not feed bread to these swans if you see them in the park. He noted that volunteers feed them grain during the winter.

"They don't need to be fed during the winter, except by those [volunteers], but lots of them spend the winter on LaSalle Park and a lot of [Burlingtonians] have kind of fallen in love with the trumpeter swans, so it's been a really nice story."

with files from Kathy Renwald


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