Thursday, May 28, 2009


Travelling the major highway connecting Toronto and Niagara Falls Ontario you must pass a large "bird slum" along Burlington Bay. The off ramp just before the Burlington Skyway leads to a road along the docks and industrial basin of the city of Hamilton. It is home to thousands of community dwelling birds. Two weeks ago they were tending nests in their crowded tenement and no young birds were visible. I am sure this has changed by now.

Double Crested Cormorants are gaining a reputation with some as a nuisance bird. (I wrote about them in this post a year ago) Their looks, habits and smell do not endear them to most people but they are a native bird and have made a comeback in numbers after suffering from the effects of DDT. They nest in trees in large colonies and the nests incorporate all types of materials, from twigs to plastic and garbage collected along the shoreline.

We pulled to the shoulder of the road and rolled down the window to take these pictures. The stench of dead fish was very strong even from the vehicle. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of Cormorant nests along this stretch of road.

Beneath the Cormorant nests were thousands of Ring-billed Gulls. My bird guide calls them "colonial, nesting in a shallow scrape in the ground lined with plants and debris." Pairs of gulls tended nests that were crowded together along a narrow strip of land. There was plenty of noise and smell and it was hardly safe to venture outside the vehicle without an umbrella. The wind was strong and many birds hovered in one place above the nesting grounds.

Many birders were out on this May weekend but we did not see anyone else visiting this area. The others were looking for pretty warblers, migrating songbirds and majestic birds of prey. These abundant, smelly "slumbirds" were best avoided. But they have their place and have adapted well to city environments. This area of the bay must have a plentiful food supply to support so many birds and that may speak well of efforts to improve the water quality in the industrial basin.


  1. Anonymous9:25 am GMT-4

    I never heard of the name "Slumbirds". Good post.

  2. I have never seen such large groups of birds. Amazing!

  3. I love the colony of cormorants.

  4. Cormorants are enduring the second summer of an official and controversial "cull" at some of the small Pelee islands. Their huge numbers have been destroying the delicate and unique ecosystem of the area, but I can't help but feel sorry for the birds. They're probably out of natural balance because of something humans have tampered with!

  5. I've never seen cormorants nesting! What interesting pictures.

  6. what a great post of the enjoyed it. those nests were quite fascinating.
    thanks for sharing with all of us.

  7. Mexico Mom4:50 pm GMT-4

    I think your term "slumbirds" is exceptionally descriptive especially including the smells.

    In 1952 - 1954 I taught at Morse Street School near Queen and Pape in Toronto's east end. We were not far from the lake but I never heard nor saw signs of slumbirds in those days.

  8. Interesting that the cormorants will use just about anything in their nests.
    "slumbirds" is a great title.

  9. the pics of these birds are awesome. Is slumbirds a word you made up?

  10. Katie- I have never heard the name Slumbirds either. I made it up because that is what they looked like to me. (And the movie Slumdog Millionaire was in my mind too.)

    NCMW- I wish I could have taken a picture that showed how many birds there were. I don't know where the baby birds will go!

    Gaelyn- I find cormorants very interesting. I like their blue eyes too.

    Deborah- Thanks for sharing that information. I thought I had read something about that, but couldn't find a reference. I agree about the natural balance being out of whack.

    CS- I saw these nests all winter and thought they belonged to herons. I was so surprised to see all the cormorants in them.

    Erin- The nests were most interesting as they incorporated a lot of recycled garbage.

    Mom- Yes, wish I could have added a whiff of odour to the post! I would imagine there are cormorants and gulls nesting somewhere in the Toronto area too.

    Janie- I don't know where they go in the winter, but I imagine they nest in the south too.

    Jeanette- I could have had better pictures if I had left the car. But my vehicle was badly "bombed" and I would have been too. And it is a made up word.

  11. Ruth,

    I know the area you are speaking of and yes, it is kind of a bird slum. I can imagine the smell along there at this time of year.

    Enjoyed the photos.

  12. It's good to know that they are determined and resilient birds. My husband asked me the other day why it is that you don't see pigeons outside the city, and I was really not sure. Maybe they, like the cormorants and gulls, like city living? :c)

  13. Slumbirds is a perfect word to describe their living arrangements. I have admit though it is interesting and different way of "living" then most birds we know.
    Very informative post. You find the "neatest" stuff.

  14. Reminds me of an old poem...The Common Cormorant or Shag lays its eggs in a paper bag... :)

  15. Hee hee..great title! I am here in NYC and the slumbirds are pigeons and house sparrows..but they dont live in colony like your slumbirds!
    Great photos of the corm nests!
    Wow..thats allot of gulls..must be noisy!

  16. That cormorant nesting site looks like a noisy, busy, smelly site. I bet those birds were happy though. Nice images.


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