Tucked in the deep visor of the River Street traffic light at the foot of Bayview is a nest with five embryonic residents. It may seem freakish, but "there are lots of examples," says Mark Peck, an ornithologist at the ROM's department of natural history, of encroaching urbanization forcing birds to cope in mysterious ways and to nest in unconventional places.
"They'll use holes in lampposts or mailboxes. Robins will nest on top of porch lights, Canada geese often use planters, and there are wrens that nest in boots or pails," says Peck.
He's spotted some strange nesting places in his time, including a tampon dispenser in a women's washroom, atop of which a black phoebe raised its young. "From what I understand, it raised them successfully," Peck says.
Partly, says Peck, it's because birds are trying new things in the face of greater obstacles to procreating.
The Canada goose, for example, is one species that typically nests on the ground, but in recent years some have been reported successfully nesting on railway trestles and as high up as the 15th floor of high-rises to keep predators away.
"The young are expected to jump off. If they're light enough, they sort of float down," says Peck. You can guess what happens if they're not.
While Canada geese and pigeons are doing well - much to the dismay of pedestrians with dark coats - many birds can't handle the increased disturbance and prevalence of predators like raccoons, skunks and birds of prey like peregrine falcons, Cooper's hawks and merlins, which have seen a resurgence thanks to the easy pickings at bird feeders and on sidewalks.
As for the nest stuck in the River Street traffic light, the city isn't contemplating destroying it, as it has those of other nuisance birds, by oiling the eggs. A city contractor made note of the nest and the fact that the intersection has three signal indicators, making it okay to leave the bird and its young alone.
"We try not to disturb the nest in a case where there may be eggs," says Paul Nause, manager of traffic plant installation and maintenance, adding that the city puts up temporary light heads in places where nests do create potential traffic risks.