It has been decades since Bald Eagles nested on the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario. In fact, by the early 1980s, mostly as a result of widespread use of the pesticide DDT, there were only four active nests in all of the Great Lakes. That equals approximately 15 surviving birds. The species was all but locally extinct.
Nowadays, with the effects of DDT behind us — it was phased out beginning in the early 1970s — and with serious conservation efforts, the Bald Eagle has made a comeback. There are now 31 active nests on the Great Lakes, and another 30 on lakes north of 49th parallel. But there has not been a single successful nest on the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario. Until now!
Bald Eagles have overwintered in Cootes Paradise at Royal Botanical Gardens for the last few years. In 2008 a pair stayed for the entire summer — which lead our conservation staff to believe that the time was right for a pair to settle in and call Cootes their own. This means building a nest, laying eggs, raising young and becoming a highly visible and inspirational symbol of why we need to think green and save the environment for generations to come.
Royal Botanical Gardens has the perfect environment to convince Bald Eagles to settle in. These large predators need at least 100 hectares of undisturbed forest to nest and roost, plus an adjacent 50 hectares of wetlands to allow them to catch fish. We have it all right here, and on March 22 and 23, 2013, the first eaglets to hatch on the Canadian shoreline of Lake Ontario in over 50 years, broke free of their eggs: a testament to the environmental restoration work that has taken place at RBG and Hamilton Harbour.
In 2016, the Bald Eagles continue to use the third nest site and are incubating eggs nearly out of view – a long sight line of the nest is available looking north from Chegwin Boardwalk (on Cootes Paradise south shore behind McMaster University, via Ravine Road and Mac Landing Trails), with the nest located atop a tall pine tree in the Hopkin’s Woods Special Protection Area along Spencer Creek. This 75-hectare zone surrounds the nest site which is protected by Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.
What do Bald Eagles need?
- A large body of water, usually a marsh larger than 30 hectares, to supply them with fish, birds and other small mammals to eat.
- A relatively large patch of undisturbed mature forest (large trees) in which to nest within 0.5 km of the hunting area and at least 0.5 km from people.
- A large patch of woodland in which to rest and shelter during the non-nesting season; experts suggest a minimum of 260 hectares of woodland.
What is RBG doing?
- Continuing with our wetland restoration program, Project Paradise, to ensure suitable hunting grounds exist in this 250-hectare marsh.
- Striking a better balance between visitor access and wild spaces. This means modifying our trail network (Hopkins Loop and Grey Doe Trails) to ensure that adequate undisturbed forest exists while ensuring visitors the opportunity to experience wildlife in adjacent areas. We have also clearly posted a 15-hectare Special Protection Area around the nest site.
- Erected the beginnings of a Bald Eagle nest in very large White Pine tree in an isolated area on the north shore of Cootes Paradise. Though the eagles investigated other potential nest trees, in the end they have settled on this White Pine.
To learn more, download leaflets on Eagle Photography, and the History of Bald Eagles at RBG.