Bank swallows are some of London's most charismatic but endangered aerial insectivores. As North America's smallest species of swallow, Bank Swallows migrate thousands of kilometers each year and feed off many hundreds of insects every day, all captured on the wing. In spring, swallows dig their nest burrows in banks along shorelines and in aggregate pits, sometimes forming large colonies like one discovered in 2020 in London west that contains almost 2000 nests!
Black-Capped Chickadees are amazing little birds that are present in London all year. They are found at our feeders, in city parks and more remote wilderness areas. They are tough, acrobatic and fun to watch and have around. The song chickadee -dee – dee is instantly recognizable and never fails to bring a smile to your face when you hear it. If you are out birdwatching and follow the sounds of chickadees you will often discover many other different kinds of birds that seem to like to hang out with chickadees in mixed flocks. They are unafraid of people and will often take sunflowers right from an outstretched hand.
The Chimney Swift is a small, sooty-grey bird that once nested and roosted inside hollow trees in old-growth forests. For shelter it now relies mainly on old, unlined brick chimneys. Swifts come to land only to enter their chimneys, where they cling vertically, held by strong claws and braced by stiff, spine-tipped tails. Swifts construct nests from tiny twigs held together and to the inner wall of the chimney by their glue-like saliva. Chimney Swift numbers in Canada have declined by more than 90% since 1970. In 2003, members of Nature London learned that Chimney Swifts were in serious decline. To try to learn more, that fall they began counting migrating swifts as they dived by the hundreds into a few big old chimneys to roost for the night. Over the years, members of Nature London have been carrying out a number of initiatives aimed at learning more about swifts and helping in their conservation, such as identifying more roost chimneys and organizing regular monitoring.
Photo by D.G. Wake. Information courtesy of Nature London.
Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owls are often difficult to spot due to their camouflauged colouration, but always impressive and majestic when spotted. You will often hear their classic hoo call before seeing them. Great Horned Owls have become somewhat famous to many Londoners. They draw a crowd to London's Gibbons Park each year when young hatch. These nocturnal animals are often asleep during the day. If you do come across one of them, make sure you keep your distance and let them get some much deserved rest after a long night of hunting prey!
Photo by David Dunlop, taken in London in 2020.
Almost all Londoners can recognize the gentle coo of the Mourning Dove and perhaps even identify this highly common and abundant bird. These birds can be found across North America, and in London year round, in open woodlands and trees. Mourning Doves are are ground foragers, which means keeping cats indoors to prevent attacks is incredibly important for these guys. I live in the Coves, which is an abundant area for birds. Every year a pair of Mourning Doves fills a nest on our chimney ledge with babies and I get to enjoy watching the babies grow up in our backyard (although I've also seen a baby get taken by a hawk!). I named the local Mourning Dove family Stewie, and enjoy saying hello to them every year.
Did you know that the City of London is considered to be the 'Cardinal Capital' of Canada because more Cardinals appear on the annual Christmas Bird Count in London than anywhere else in the nation? The Cardinal is also featured as the mascot for Nature London. Both male and female and female Cardinals sing -- making them true ‘feminist birds’! Cardinal calls were some of the first that I learned, and there is something very comforting about hearing their ‘cheer, cheer, cheer’ whistles. As one of the ‘Angry Birds’ – could this be a gateway to foster young birders? The mascot of the next generation?! Vote Cardinal!
Many people are familiar with Peregrine Falcons and their incredible flying abilities: they are capable of the fastest flight in the world when they dive at up to 320 km per hour! About 50 years ago, Peregrine Falcons were almost eradicated from this part of the world due to pesticide use but thankfully conservation efforts have helped greatly increase their population numbers. In 1995, a breeding pair showed an interest in nesting on a TD Canada Trust skyscraper in downtown London and at least 15 young were successfully raised in this nest for the next 10 years! When it was time for the babies to leave the nest, "Peregrine Watch" volunteers watched the fledglings from the street below to ensure they stayed safe. Keep an eye to the sky to see if you can spot a beautiful and powerful Peregrine Falcon flying over London!
Red-tailed Hawks are a common sight in many parts of London. Typical Red-tail plumage is brown on top with a pale, streaked belly. Their tail appears pale on the underside and cinnamon-red on top. However, Red-tailed Hawks have many different color morphs. For instance, dark morphs appear chocolate brown on the body with a red tail, while rufous morphs appear reddish-brown on the chest with a dark belly. The species is sexually dimorphic, with females that are 25% larger on average than males. Red-tailed Hawks provide important ecosystem services to London as top predators. With incredible distance vision, hawks can spot a mouse from 100 feet in the air!