Eric McGuinness, The Hamilton Spectator, (Dec 18, 2008)
The Royal Botanical Gardens hopes to be home to the first bald eagle nest on the north shore of Lake Ontario in more than half a century.
Tys Theysmeyer, acting head of conservation, says it could happen as soon as next spring.
The big birds, with a wingspan of up to 2.4 metres, disappeared from southern Ontario and faced extinction across much of Canada and the United States after the pesticide DDT started causing their eggs to break in the mid-1900s. But the population is now recovering.
A dozen spent last winter on Hamilton Harbour, half a dozen are back already this year and, for the first time in recent memory, two or maybe three stayed around last summer.
"We're sure they will stay a second summer," says Theysmeyer. That gives rise to hope that a male-female pair old enough to breed will start looking for a nest site in the spring.
To encourage them, the RBG plans to install a nest platform in a tall white pine on the north shore of the Cootes Paradise marsh early in the new year. It will also reroute hiking trails and install signs urging people to stay away from the potential nest site, which can be seen from an observation tower that will remain accessible.
Theysmeyer says: "They're looking for a new neighbourhood and we're getting the streets clean for them. Our challenge will be to convince users to abide by the signs and accept why we are closing trails. It's the first time the RBG will formally rearrange part of its natural land into special protection areas -- legitimate wild space where people don't go."
He says staff of the gardens and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources considered keeping the nest plan quiet, but decided instead to try to educate people "and remind them of how fragile this population is."
Lorraine Norminton, the ministry's Hamilton-Wentworth Stewardship Council co-ordinator, said federal-provincial Great Lakes restoration money is available to help build the platform and install signs.
The bald eagle is a sentinel species for the health of aquatic ecosystems. In other words, nesting bald eagles are evidence of a healthy Hamilton Harbour ecosystem.
Eagle nests can weigh up to half a tonne, so they need big, sturdy trees on open water flanked by one or two square kilometres of uninterrupted forests and fields, a combination hard to find in the heavily urban Golden Horseshoe.
The last nest in the Hamilton bird study area was observed from 1940 to 1952 on Spottiswood Lake, along the Grand River in Brant County south of Cambridge. The first new one was established along the Grand River near Caledonia last year. Avid birder Mike Street reports it produced a healthy chick this year.