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Hamilton’s peregrine falcon chicks are banded, volunteers needed to keep watch

Click to play video: 'Banding and naming of Hamilton’s peregrine falcon chicks' Banding and naming of Hamilton’s peregrine falcon chicks
Mark Nash of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation and Anne Yagi, a retired management biologist from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, work to band Hamilton's new batch of peregrine falcon chicks – May 27, 2022

Hamilton’s new batch of peregrine falcon chicks has been banded, and now the group keeping an eye on the species at risk is looking for volunteers to keep watch when the birds take their first flights.

The new falcons have been dubbed Auchmar, Balfour, Dundurn, and Wynnstay — all named after historical homes in Hamilton.

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The chicks, who arrived on Mother’s Day weekend, are the first newborn falcons to hatch atop the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Hamilton to parents McKeever and Judson, who moved in on the territory of former resident falcons Lily and Ossie earlier this year.

Wynnstay and Auchmar are females, while Balfour and Dundurn are males — which are much smaller than their female counterparts.

Read more: Falconwatch says Hamilton’s newest downtown peregrine has laid her first eggs

Pat Baker, senior monitor with FalconWatch, said having four chicks in the nest is exceptional, especially after last year’s empty nest.

“We often have three, sometimes two, occasionally one, sometimes none, as with the previous couple,” she said.

“So (having four) means a tremendous amount of work.”

Auchmar, Balfour, Dundurn and Wynnstay preparing to return to their nest atop the Sheraton Hotel. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

That work involves watching the chicks as they take their first flights in a couple of weeks.

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Baker said the entire watch will last five weeks, but it’s those middle three weeks, starting on June 13th, when they need volunteers to watch the birds and let the FalconWatch team know if they get into trouble and need rescuing.

Sometimes the young falcons will fly somewhere like a parking garage or a building with a balcony that they struggle to find their way off of, and Baker said that’s when the team goes in to help the bird find its way out.

“(The volunteers) just need to have binoculars. We have binoculars we can provide if they don’t, and some training — it’s not rigorous training. They just basically have to watch the birds.”

Although peregrine falcons are no longer considered to be endangered, they are still listed as a species at risk in Ontario.

Read more: Falcon who nested several years atop Hamilton hotel has died

Mark Nash, director of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation, said the process of documenting the falcons’ presence on the Sheraton over the past 26 years has demonstrated that peregrines nesting in urban settings like downtown Hamilton have been able to out-produce falcons that nest in the wild.

“So if you’re ever asked in the street, ‘All of the money, the time, the resources, the input, all the hoopla, jeez, are you guys really making a difference? Is this worth it? One single bird you rescue on the sidewalk, what are you all, bird brains? Are you nuts?’

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“You’ve absolutely made a difference because birds that you have rescued from the street are given second and third chances and in some cases, have gone on to propagate and produce their own offspring.”

Two Sheraton employees pose with two of the falcon chicks. Mark Nash of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation says the Sheraton has been an essential partner in helping to protect the peregrines ever since they began nesting on the building in 1995. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Nash held each chick while they were banded by Anne Yagi, a retired management biologist from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, who has been helping band birds in southern Ontario for more than two decades.

Read more: Falcons nesting atop the Sheraton in Hamilton have chicks

Despite the loud screeching from each falcon baby, Nash said those noises are sounds of irritation and annoyance rather than fear, and once the bands are on, the birds forget about them, as they each weigh less than the equivalent of a peregrine feather.

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All four chicks also sport a different-coloured piece of tape on their bands so volunteers can easily tell them apart.

Baker said anyone who’s interested in signing up to volunteer to watch the falcons can email volunteers@falcons.hamiltonnature.org.

An orientation session will be held on the evening of June 2 to let volunteers know what’s required during the three-week falcon watch period.

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