Birdwatching Canada

A voice for the northern birds

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Ducks, Ducks & More Ducks

We love posting good news on this blog. When you’re dealing with wildlife and wild spaces, good news items are few and far between.

Today is one of the good days.

Northern pintail male and female ducks

Northern pintail male and female ducks

The Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey samples more than two million square miles of waterfowl habitat across the United States, Canada, and Alaska. The survey estimates the number of ducks on the continent’s primary nesting grounds.

Songbirds are declining around the world, but our North American waterfowl population remains healthy. Not only are the numbers up from last year’s survey, but the total population numbers in the millions are very heartening. As long as prairie potholes, marshes and lakes are preserved, waterfowl of all kinds should have a promising future. You can’t say that for many wild species these days.

Highlights from the survey include:

  • The estimated mallard population is 8.5 million birds, a 10 percent increase over last year’s estimate of 7.7 million birds and 13 percent above the long-term average.
  • The estimated population of 3.1 million gadwall is similar to last year’s estimate and 73 percent above the long-term average.
  • At 7.4 million, the estimated population size of blue-winged teal is the second highest on record, while green-winged teal numbers were at an all-time high of 3.4 million. Estimates for both species are well above their long-term averages (60 percent and 79 percent, respectively).
  • The 3.2 million estimate for northern pintails is 23 percent more than last year but 20 percent below the long-term average.
  • The estimated number of one million redheads is similar to last year and is 62 percent above the long-term average.
  • The canvasback estimate of 662,000 is 35 percent more than last year’s estimate and similar to the long-term average.
  • The estimated abundance of northern shovelers (4.4 million) is 25 percent more than last year and 92 percent above the long-term average.
  • The scaup (lesser and greater combined), estimate of 4.2 million, is 12 percent greater than last year but 18 percent below the long-term average.
  • Population estimates for American black ducks, ring-necked ducks, American wigeon, bufflehead, goldeneyes, and mergansers are similar to last year as well as their 1990-2008 averages.

The entire Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, 1955-2009 report can be downloaded from the US Fish & Wildlife website.

Filed under: Waterfowl, , ,

Pileated Woodpecker Video

At a height of around 17 inches, pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in North America (unless someone finds a live Ivory-billed). They are found in dense mature forests throughout Canada, and in the eastern half of the USA.

Rarely seen, they are a birdwatchers delight when they are spotted. If you’re looking for them in the woods, look for the long rectangular or oval holes they have excavated. Both males and females have the red cap, but that of the male is more extensive.

This video gives a perfect view of the unique woodpecker body type, with their legs facing forward for gripping, instead of down for walking.

more about “Pileated Woodpecker Video“, posted with vodpod

Filed under: Woodpeckers, , ,

Canada’s Day – Canada’s Bird

Can you name Canada’s National Bird? You may get a clue from our coins!

Our national bird is the Common Loon, which also explains our loonies and toonies that the world loves to laugh about. And before you ask, no a baby loon is not called a loonie (or twins called toonies). Baby loons are simply called chicks, just like other waterfowl babies.

Common Loons have striking red eyes, black heads and necks, and white striping, checkering, and spotting on their backs. As well as being Canada’s national bird, they are also the provincial bird of Ontario.

Common Loon on nest

Common Loon on nest

Loons are one of the most aquatic of birds. Their legs are placed so far back on their bodies they have extreme difficulty walking on land, and were named for their clumsy, awkward appearance on dry ground.

Also known as Great Northern Divers, Common Loons swim underwater to catch fish, propelling themselves with the feet. They swallow most of their prey underwater. They have sharp, rearward-pointing projections on the roof of their mouth and tongue that help them keep a firm hold on slippery fish.

Loons can dive more than 200 feet (61 meters) below the surface of the water in search of food, and are Canada’s deepest diving bird. They can stay underwater for nearly a minute.

Their unusual cries are distinct to individuals and can be heard at great distances. Loon cries are most prevalent during breeding season as pairs aggressively defend their territories. The eerie yodel of the Common Loon is a true symbol of wild Canada.

Filed under: Waterfowl, , ,

Sit Birding

I am definitely a fan of sit birding. You find a nice birdy location – say the edge of a marsh or along a riverbank – and then (here’s where it gets technical) you sit. As in down.

Get comfy. Sit in your carefully chosen perfect location and wait for the birds to come to you.

One of the biggest advantages to sit birding is the elimination of wondering what you’ve just missed in any given location. Sit birding means you can see ALL of the birds as long as you care to park yourself there.

I find sit birding particularly enjoyable on a warm summer evening, sitting next to a gently flowing river. Note to self: sit birding is best done with your eyes open, or a wide awake friend to nudge you occasionally.

Particularly advanced sit birders may cover two or even three different locations in the course of a day’s birding, but you can slowly work up to that high level of activity.

And for a near-professional level of sit birding, check this out!

From The Bird Watchers Digest:

The Big Sit! is an annual, international, noncompetitive birding event hosted by Bird Watcher’s Digest and founded by the New Haven (CT) Bird Club. Every team that observes this year’s “Golden Bird” has a chance to win $500. We hope bird watchers from around the globe will unite on this special day by participating in this event (it’s free!). The Big Sit! is sponsored by Swarovski Optik, Alpen Optics, and Wild Bird Centers.

Some people have called it a “tailgate party for birders.” Today there are Big Sit! circles all over the world, including Guatemala, India, the Netherlands, England, Vietnam, and New Zealand.

The simplicity of the concept makes The Big Sit! so appealing. Find a good spot for bird watching — preferably one with good views of a variety of habitats and lots of birds. Next you create a real or imaginary circle 17 feet in diameter and sit inside the circle for 24 hours, counting all the bird species you see or hear. That’s it. Find a spot, sit in it, have fun.

And you thought I was just being lazy…

Filed under: Weird & Wonky, ,

Grackle Diaper Patrol

male common grackle

Male common grackle

Common grackles are one of those largely overlooked backyard birds. In spite of the fact they are classed as songbirds, they don’t have a pretty singing voice and aren’t small and colorful.

At first glance, grackles are just plain black. Catch them in the sunlight however, and you’ll see iridescent black feathers on the body, a beautiful blue head on the males, and pale yellow eyes. Females are slightly smaller, and less glossy.

You’ll often find common grackles in large flocks, flying or foraging on lawns and fields. They strut on long legs, pecking for food rather than scratching. When resting they sit atop trees or on telephone lines, keeping up an incessant, raucous chattering.

If you have grackles in your yard, and if said grackles are nesting there, I doubt you can overlook the busy parents doing diaper duty.

Baby grackles produce fecal material that looks like miniature sandwich bags of poop. The parents grab these little bird diapers, and take them far away from the nest so predators can’t locate the baby birds. And drop them. Everywhere.

These clever birds consider water the perfect place to dump their cargo, as water washes away all traces. If you have a pond, a pool or even bird bath in your yard, this would be a good time to initiate regular cleanings. From the air, a glossy polish on a car apparently looks like water as well.

Native to open and semi-open areas east of the Rocky Mountains, the common grackle has adapted well to backyard bird feeders. Their size (13″) gives them first crack at the food, and I’ve even seen them intimidate squirrels into waiting for their dinner until the grackles are finished. The only species they don’t rule seems to be the blue jay, who is truly the lord of the feeder!

Common grackles are resourceful foragers. They sometimes follow plows to catch invertebrates and mice, wade into water to catch small fish, pick leeches off the legs of turtles, steal worms from American robins, raid nests, and kill and eat adult birds. They are the number one threat to corn crops, as they eat ripening corn and well as corn sprouts.

Their range expanded west as forests were cleared, and in some areas, they are now considered a pest by farmers because of their large numbers and fondness for corn and grain. Despite a currently robust population, a recent study by the National Audubon Society indicated that populations had declined by 61% to a population of 73 million from historic highs of over 190 million birds.

So even if they aren’t small and melodious, don’t overlook the common grackles in your yard. They have about 73 million relatives, and can be relied upon to visit your feeders sooner or later, and likely make a deposit in your pond.

Filed under: Songbirds,

Ontario Swift Watch

Bird Studies Canada is excited to announce the launch of a new program: Ontario Swift Watch.

Chimney Swifts, like many other aerial insectivores in North America, are experiencing strong population declines across their range. The Canadian Chimney Swift population has decreased 96% over the past 40 years, leading to their COSEWIC designation as a federally Threatened species.

ChimneySwift23Through funding provided by the Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario SwiftWatch has been developed as a province-wide initiative to expand and standardize volunteer-based monitoring practices that are already underway in a number of cities. We hope to understand the causes of these population declines and work toward conserving this species.

Chimney Swifts provide an exciting opportunity for city-based individuals to participate in important conservation work, as they are most often found nesting and roosting in urban chimneys.

Have you noticed Chimney Swifts in your area? Bird Studies Canada are looking for volunteer Chimney Swift monitors in cities all across Ontario. For more information, or to become a volunteer, please contact Elisabeth van Stam (1-888-448-2473 ext.173, evanstam@birdscanada.org) or Hazel Wheeler (1-888-448-2473 ext. 165, hwheeler@birdscanada.org).

The mission of Bird Studies Canada is to advance the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of wild birds and their habitats, in Canada and elsewhere, through studies that engage the skills, enthusiasm, and support of its members, volunteers, and the interested public.

Bird Studies Canada is a not-for-profit organization built on the enthusiastic contributions of thousands of volunteer Citizen Scientists. Data from Bird Studies Canada’s volunteer surveys and targeted research projects are used to identify significant population changes and help direct conservation planning.

For more information on this and other volunteer positions for wildlife, please see WorkCabin.ca, Canada’s environmental jobs and volunteers website.

Filed under: Songbirds, ,

Piping Plover Guardians Needed

After a 30-year absence of breeding Piping Plovers, a pair successfully nested in Ontario in 2007, and four pairs of this endangered species nested in the province in 2008. Bird Studies Canada are pleased to announce that Piping Plovers are nesting in Ontario again this season. Nests have been established at both Wasaga Beach and Sauble Beach. All nests are protected from predators with exclosures, and are monitored by volunteers. Beach users are asked to stay outside of the fenced areas that surround the nests, and to look for the volunteer plover guardians for advice on how to observe the plovers.

Piping plovers Photo: Brendan Toews

Piping plovers Photo: Brendan Toews

Volunteer guardians spend time on the beach monitoring and protecting the plovers, and educating the public about these rare birds and the efforts underway to protect them. More guardians are needed. If you are interested in volunteering at Sauble Beach, contact Stew Nutt at 519-372-8588 or saubleplover@gmail.com, or for Wasaga Beach, contact Kim Jaxa-Debicki at (705) 429-2516 or speciesatrisk@wasagabeachpark.com.

Monitoring and coordinating protection for the plovers is a collaborative effort of government and non-government partners including the Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Parks, and Bird Studies Canada, with important support from the local municipalities and numerous volunteers.

For more details, see Bird Studies Canada.

Filed under: Shorebirds, , ,

BC Breeding Bird Atlas On The Road

Join the British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas team as they tour BC providing workshops, meeting with regional coordinators, doing atlas blitzes, and conducting point counts. Christopher Di Corrado will tour the Dease Lake/Telegraph Creek area from June 8-14, then proceed to Whitehorse (from where activities in some parts of remote northern BC are coordinated). Christopher will give a presentation on the atlas in the Whitehorse Library on June 14 at 7 p.m., and at the Northern Lights College in Atlin on June 15 at 7 p.m., continuing to atlas the region until June 19. Contact Christopher at cdicorrado@birdscanada.org for more details.

Dick Cannings will be the guest speaker at the 27th annual Manning Park Bird Blitz on the evening of June 12, and will be on hand with regional coordinator Alan Burger to provide an atlas flavour to the bird blitz from June 13-14. Rob Butler will atlas the Bute Inlet area with regional coordinator Art Martell from June 7-14, and then the Pacific Rim region of Vancouver Island through mid-June.

Filed under: Birdwatching Events, , ,

Canada’s Northern Jewel Enlarged

Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada is located in the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories. Created in 1972 and officially designated a park reserve in 1976, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Until now, Nahanni has covered an area of 4,766 km2, and encompassed only the lower reaches of the South Nahanni and Flat Rivers.

Lotus Tower and the Cirque of the Unclimables - CPAWS

Lotus Tower and the Cirque of the Unclimables - CPAWS

Today, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is celebrating an historic announcement by Environment Minister Jim Prentice and DehCho First Nations Grand Chief Gerald Antoine.

The newly expanded Nahanni will be nearly seven times the size of the original park reserve. It will permanently protect over 30,000 sq. km of Boreal wilderness, an area roughly the size of Vancouver Island, and will be Canada’s third largest park.

The expansion will cover much of the South Nahanni River watershed and 91 per cent of the Greater Nahanni Ecosystem, thus protecting an entire watershed area.

Commercial development is prohibited within its boundaries, although two mines operate on the outskirts of the current park boundaries. Those mines will be allowed to stay, but otherwise the area will be off-limits to development.

The Nahanni is a spectacular example of intact Boreal wilderness that is also of spiritual importance to local First Nations. The watershed contains Virginia Falls, deep canyons, and unique limestone caves and formations. It is home to woodland caribou, wolves grizzly bears, Canada lynx, mountain goats, wolverine and Dall’s sheep. The South Nahanni River, with a waterfall twice the height of Niagara, is a whitewater paddler’s dream destination.

The birds of Nahanni show an interesting diversity, with a mixture of cordilleran, boreal and great plain species. A total of 180 bird species have been documented, with 21% of these species remaining in the north year-round.

Yohin Lake and Rabbitkettle Lake are important habitats for breeding waterfowl. Yohin Lake supports a small nesting population of trumpeter swans.At Rabbitkettle Lake, one may find up to four species of loons, as well as red-necked grebes.

Sharp-shinned hawks, American kestrels and both bald and golden eagles can be seen along the South Nahanni River. Peregrine falcons and gyrfalcons have been occasionally spotted.

Nahanni North Karst - CPAWS

Nahanni North Karst - CPAWS

Today’s announcement caps a 35-year effort by CPAWS to expand Nahanni National Park Reserve. When the CPAWS’ campaign went national six years ago, thousands of Canadians across the country became involved, writing letters and demonstrating their support.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that the Nahanni is an ecological treasure of global significance.  Today’s announcement guarantees its future and promises that generations of Dehcho First Nations, northerners, other Canadians, and visitors from around the world will have the chance to experience this unspoiled wilderness,” says CPAWS National Executive Director Eric Hébert-Daly.

For more information on Nahanni visit the CPAWS website, or Parks Canada.

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