History of the Hamilton Community Peregrine Project and Falcon Watch
provided by the Hamilton Naturalists' Club
The Story of the Hamilton Peregrines
(Updates in current year are in bold type)
1994: In the spring of 1994 the late Len Dixon, then a Supervisor with the Hamilton Board of Education, noticed what he thought was a Peregrine Falcon spending time on and near the downtown Hamilton Sheraton Hotel, across busy King Street from the school board building (which stood on the location of the David Braley Health Sciences Centre).
1995: The Canadian Wildlife Service and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources were notified of Len's sighting. In early 1995 it was confirmed that not only was there a Peregrine in Hamilton, there was a PAIR nesting on a ledge on the south face of the 18th floor of the Sheraton!
A monitoring effort, coordinated by the Hamilton Naturalists' Club, was quickly set up with help from HNC members, other nature groups, and the public. The adult Peregrines, named 'Mom' and 'Dad' by the volunteers, hatched one chick of their own ('Hamilton'). Two more chicks ('Alberta' and 'Wainwright') were brought in from the captive breeding facility at Wainwright, Alberta and placed in the nest by a mountain climber. All three fledged successfully.
1996: In 1996 at least two eggs hatched, but both chicks disappeared suddenly and no further nesting was attempted.
1997: In 1997 the parents returned early, around March 10-15. Several eggs were laid and chicks hatched, but it was only during the week of June 2 that Falcon Watchers were able to see well enough into the nest to learn that there were FOUR chicks!! The 1997 birds were named 'Stelco', 'Sheraton' and 'Fairclough', all named after the buildings they used while fledging, and 'Spectator', after the local newspaper.
1998: Both the birds and the Falcon Watchers were even better prepared in 1998. A video camera, installed by the Canadian Peregrine Foundation, provided a signal to TV monitors in a storefront centre inside Jackson Square and to the CPF website. As in the previous year, 'Mom' and 'Dad' successfully fledged four chicks - 'Freedom', 'Phoenix', 'Navigator' and 'High Rise' - although one did not make it through the summer (see Follow-up, below). The birds names were chosen from those submitted in a contest.
1999: There was a significant change in 1999. While 'Dad' returned, the female was different. 'Mom', who produced the 1995-1998 chicks, left Hamilton in October 1998. That in itself was not unusual, but she did not return in the spring of 1999 and it was assumed that she had died in the interval. Meanwhile, in November 1998 a new female, named 'Toledo' after the Ohio city where she was born in a similar downtown building nest, arrived in Hamilton.
In the spring of 1999, after acclimatizing to the city and relearning how to land on building ledges, Toledo set up housekeeping with Dad. Four eggs were laid in the Sheraton nest in late March. Monitoring through the video camera continued and everything appeared to be fine until May 10 or so, when it was discovered that three of the eggs were gone. A week later it was obvious that the fourth egg was not going to hatch either. (It is believed that the failed eggs became fragile and were crushed by the weight of the incubating parents. The disappearing eggshells are accounted for by the fact that many birds eat their own eggshells for the calcium content.)
On May 21 two chicks were brought to Hamilton from a breeding facility in Quebec. The chicks were located and purchased by CPF and turned over to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Once at the Sheraton, the two chicks were banded and then carried down into the nest by a mountain climber. Adopted immediately by 'Dad' and 'Toledo', the two chicks, 'George' and 'Amazing Grace' ('Gracie') fledged normally.
2000: In honour of his dedication to the Hamilton nest, in the Millennium year 'Dad' was renamed 'Perseverance' ('Percy' for short). In 2000 Percy and Toledo hatched four chicks - 'Millennium' ('Millie' for short), 'Skywalker', 'Solo' and 'Wookie'. Sadly, Millie did not make it through the fledging period.
2001: In January 2001 came the sad news that Toledo had been killed in a collision with a car two months earlier. Since there had been a female falcon around over the early part of the winter, Hamilton Falcon Watchers set out to learn the identity of the new female, named 'Madame X', who appeared to be about three years old. In the meantime Percy teamed up with Madame X and together they produced and fledged two youngsters, 'Hal' and 'Sal'. Later in the summer Madame X's identity was learned (see Adults, below).
2002: Although Percy was seen in February, it appears that by April he had been replaced by a new male, Mozart. Madame X and Mozart successfully hatched and raised three chicks; two males, 'Springer' and 'McQuesten', and a female, 'Beasley'. The names were selected to honour prominent Hamiltonians of historic significance. Richard Springer and Richard Beasley were both early settlers who came to Hamilton as United Empire Loyalists. Springer owned a 100 acre tract of what is now downtown Hamilton and established his original log cabin in the heart of current Corktown. Beasley, one of Hamilton's very first settlers, established a trading post on the site of Dundurn castle and his first home was a log cabin nearby. The McQuesten name is familiar to Hamiltonians as the original owners of the historic landmark home, Whitehern. During a long career in public office, Thomas A. McQuesten presided over much that is familiar today, including the development of the Royal Botanical Gardens, preservation of what was left of Cootes Paradise, and the Niagara Parks System.
2003: Madame X and Mozart started nesting on the same ledge on the Sheraton hotel in March 2003, but just after the three chicks - Bold, Jackson and Hunter - were banded it became evident that a new male had arrived on the scene. After only one season, Mozart was gone and 'Newbie' had arrived. May 23, 2005 - see the sad news about Jackson in the 'Chicks' section below.
2004: Madame X and Newbie returned for another season. Four eggs were laid, and for the first time in Madame X's history all four eggs hatched. Cootes, Macassa and Macnab, all female, and Dundas, the only male, fledged successfully. Sometime during the fall of 2004 Dundas lost a leg but this has not slowed him down much. In late February 2005 he was filmed by a CHTV Videographer as he 'processed' a recently captured meal. May 23, 2005 - see more re Dundas and Cootes in the 'Chicks' section below.
2005: Madame X and Newbie stayed in the downtown Hamilton area all winter. Four eggs were laid, and again this year all four eggs hatched. Named after famous aircraft in this 60th anniversary year of the end of WWII, Anson (f), Canso (m), Harvard (m) and Lancaster (f) grew and flew. Sadly, Canso was killed in a collision with a building. As of July 9, 2005 the other three chicks have fledged from the nest and are doing well.
2006: While it appeared that Madame X and Newbie had spent the winter in downtown Hamilton, when it came time for eggs in the nest it was soon obvious that the male was not Newbie. The new male was later identified as 'Surge', a bird hatched in Etobicoke, ON in 2002. Eggs were laid in late March and hatched in early May. The three chicks - Albion, Sherman and Webster, fledged without incident.
2007: The adult birds spent the winter in downtown Hamilton. Madame X was identifed by band number in early March. Surge's identity was confirmed later. Four eggs were laid and four chicks hatched. Sadly, two chicks died during the first week of June, apparently from some kind of infection. The other two - Jump Up and Blue Foot - were banded. Jump Up was returned to the nest immediately, while Blue Foot was found to have an infection and was held for veterinary care. Blue Foot was soon returned to the nest and both chicks fledged successfully.
2008: For the next several years, Madame X and Surge ruled the skies in downtown Hamilton, staying each winter, thanks to the plentiful food supply in the downtown core. In 2008, four chicks hatched, all male, and were named Blashill, Duncan, Elstone and Miles. All four fledged successfully.
2009: Madame X and Surge hatched four chicks. Dixon, Durand, Gleig and Strathcona fledged successfully.
2010: Madame X and Surge hatched four chicks. Chedoke, Henderson, Joseph and Peter fledged successfully.
2011: Madame X and Surge hatched three chicks. Gore, Thomson and Pigott fledged successfully.
2012: Madame X and Surge hatched three chicks. Beckett, Felker and Tiffany fledged successfully.
2013: Madame X (still with Surge) laid a clutch of four eggs, and for the first time in their long years in Hamilton, more than one failed to hatch. Two chicks, Laura and Brock (both female), fledged successfully.
2014: Madame X laid two eggs in early April. After a few weeks it became apparent that both had failed. Near the end of April, for the first time ever at the Hamilton nest, she moved to the eastern end of the nest ledge on the front of the Sheraton, and attempted a second clutch. Because of the angle of view for our cameras, we didn't know how many eggs were laid there. We only ever caught a glimpse one. Sadly, this eg or eggs also failed to hatch. There was no clear reason for the failure. The weather was not particularly cold that spring. So we were left to speculate on the possibility that perhaps Madame X was simply getting too old. Falcons generally only live about 14-16 years. And Madame X was turning 15.
2015: This was a year of dramatic changes. In January, Surge was found injured on the ground near the waterfront, and was taken to the Owl Foundation for treatment. Sadly, he died about two months later from those injuries. In his absence, a new male entered the territory in February and was slowly accepted by Madame X. Then, in a surprising turn of events, our grand old bird suddenly disappeared with no trace or explanation, and a new female was seen keeping company with the new male on the Sheraton. The new male had been identified a few weeks before as Ossie, hatched in 2012 at the Osler Hsopital in Etobicoke. The new female was soon identified as Lily, hatched in 2010 at the Grand Haven Board of Light & Power plant, in Michigan.
The new pair produced their first of three eggs on April 7, choosing a scrape location at the near end of the nest ledge - the same spot chosen by Madame X and Surge for their second clutch attempt the year before. Two of the eggs hatched successfully, and two female chicks, named Barton and McMaster for Hamilton historic figures, were banded in early June and made their first flights by the end of the month. Both fledged without incident.
2016: Just as their predecessors had done, Lily and Ossie would make a habit of spending their winters in downtown Hamilton. This year only one egg hatched. The chick, a female named Ancaster, fledged successfully.
2017: This year was to be one without chicks. Lily laid some eggs in early April, again just out of sight from our camera in the near end of the nest ledge, so we had trouble verifying how many were laid. Sadly, none of them hatched, and there was no attempt made to lay a second clutch. We could only speculate that the weather had been too cold.
2018: As if making up for the previous year, Lily and Ossie hatched four chicks the first week of May. All males, named Ainslie, Lisgar, Lawrence and Gage, for Hamilton neighborhoods. Sadly, Gage was struck and killed by a car during one of his first flights. Sometimes there is just not enough time for our watchers to rescue a chick. The other three chicks fledged successfully.
2019: Another year with no chicks. Lily and Ossie laid some eggs, again at the near end of the nest ledge, so we could not see them to make an exact count, but no chicks hatched. It doesn't appear that any second attempt at laying was made.
2020: This year was a Falconwatch success story, despite some very tense moments. Lily and Ossie hatched two chicks. A male named Griffin and a female named Whiteherne. Griffin had to be rescued after coming to ground following a collision with a building. He seemed disoriented, though not seriously injured, and was taken to the Owl Foundation for observation, and it was decided to give him a few weeks there to build his strength before letting him attempt more flights in the downtown core. He was returned to the roof of the Sheraton, and rejoined his sibling in flight. Quite oddly, he disappeared a few days after. At first we feared the worst, but we eventually received word that he had been seen hopping along a cliff top near Lake Ontario, alive and well. So our 2020 season ended on a high note, with both chicks having fledged successfully.
Why a Falcon Watch?
From 1995-2017 inclusive a total of fifty-nine (59) chicks have been fledged from the Sheraton Hamilton nest. Fifty-five (55) of these were hatched in the nest and four (4) were foster chicks placed in the nest due to partial or complete egg failure. All were monitored throughout the fledging period by volunteers organized and coordinated by the Hamilton Naturalists' Club (HNC). Were it not for the efforts of the Falcon Watch, however, at least a dozen of these chicks probably would have died.
Why? Well, first flights of young birds are often unsuccessful, ending on the street, the sidewalk, or on the roofs of nearby buildings.
Throughout the first three weeks of flight, the fledglings may crash into plate glass windows and fall to the ground. Their survival depends on our team of dedicated, trained volunteers who keep an eye on the birds, rescue them if necessary, and return them to the safety of the roof nest area. By the end of the 1997 season four of the seven chicks at the Hamilton site had been rescued at ground level a total of five times. Since 1995 a total of 24 rescues has been performed by Falconwatch Coordinators and Volunteers.
Monitoring lasts from dawn to dusk for three weeks, usually from mid-June through early July. It is also a wonderful opportunity to observe the daily activities and amazing acrobatics of this endangered species and to participate in their recovery.
Since 1995 the Hamilton Naturalists' Club has coordinated the Falcon Watch every year that chicks have hatched, with help from members of the HNC, the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch, other nature groups and the public. All banding has been carried out with the help of HNC members, volunteer climbers and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Also since 1995 the Hamilton Sheraton Hotel, the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, and Yale Properties (Jackson Square) have provided major assistance to Falcon Watch as did Stelco Inc. while it occupied the main tower in the complex. In 2015 The McMaster University David Braley Downtown Health Campus building replaced the school board building. The Braley Centre has continued to provide major assistance to Falconwatch.
In 2000 a new partnership was formed: The Hamilton Community Peregrine Project (HCPP), co-sponsored and managed by the HNC, with the goal of increasing public awareness and education regarding Hamilton's Peregrines. A website was created, exclusively dedicated to the Sheraton Hamilton nest, displaying and archiving photos from a new webcam. This site was originally developed by Charles Gregory (who continues to maintain it to this day) and hosted by the Hamilton-Wentworth Community Network (HWCN). When HWCN closed down, hosting was thereafter donated to the HCPP by Fibernetics, and internet access for the cameras provided by their Worldline division. Over the years other companies and groups have also generously provided their support. In 2011 a grant from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation provided the funds to install a second, more capable camera at the nest site. In 2016, the website was improved with a live video stream during the nesting season. Our many partners are acknowledged above, with our thanks.
OUR NESTING ADULTS THROUGH THE YEARS
1994-2002 DAD (Percy)
Dad (renamed Percy in 2000) was hatched in a nest on a building in Montreal in 1993. He arrived in Hamilton in the summer of 1994, and the following year, began the fine tradition of nesting on the Sheraton Hamilton Hotel. At first with Mom, and then with Toledo and Madame X, he spent a total of seven years at the nest, and fledged 18 chicks. In 2002 Percy was seen in February, but by April he had been replaced by a new male, Mozart. Percy has not been reported again.
Mom, although banded, was never identified. She was believed to have been banded as a wild bird in Western Canada. Mom, together with Dad (Percy), raised and fledged 9 chicks of her own, plus 2 foster chicks in 1995. She left Hamilton in the fall of 1998, and never returned.
Toledo was fledged from an urban nest in Toledo, OH in 1995, and came to Hamilton in late 1998, after 'Mom' had left. In her first year of nesting (1999) all her eggs failed, but two foster chicks were introduced to the nest, and fledged successfully. In the following year she fledged 3 chicks of her own with Percy. She was killed in a collision with a car in November 2000.
2001-2014 MADAME X (Runaround Sue)
Madame X was so named because initially her identity was a mystery to falcon watchers. It was later learned that she was hatched on a bridge on the Cross-Valley Expressway in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and banded on 7 June 1999. She was known to the falcon watchers there as 'Runaround Sue', a name suggested after she was seen running along the expressway guide wall one morning. In the spring of 2001, Madame X paired up with Percy, and in June the pair produced and fledged two chicks. She would rule the roost in Hamilton for 14 years, pairing up with four different males over that time, and fledging 43 chicks. Her final year nesting in Hamilton, 2014, was the only time all her eggs failed to hatch. Grand old bird that she was, she attempted a second clutch, but those too did not hatch. In the spring of 2015 she disappeared after suffering an injury to a foot. It is suspected that our aging matriarch lost a territorial battle with her replacement, Lily (see below).
Mozart was banded in 1999 as a wild bird at Terminal Tower, Public Square, Cleveland, Ohio. He was the son of Zenith (f) and Bullet (m). Mozart and an unbanded female tried to establish a nest at St. Catharines, Ontario in 2001, but were unsuccessful. Exactly when he arrived in Hamilton is uncertain, but based on webcam photos we are now reasonably sure that Mozart was the father of the chicks hatched by Madame X in 2002. Mozart disappeared sometime between March 20 and June 12, 2003. This was discovered after the 2003 chicks were banded when observers noted that the adult male attending the nest had no bands on his legs. A male Peregrine carrying the same colour leg band as Mozart was seen at Christie Lake Conservation Area in the Flamborough Township area of Hamilton on Dec. 26, 2003, but it was not possible to confirm that this bird was Mozart.