Birdwatching Canada

A voice for the northern birds

Wings Over The Rockies

Invermere valley

Invermere valley

If you’re up for a great week of birdwatching, you should hop on over to Invermere, British Columbia this coming week.

From May 4th to 10th, 2009, the 13th Annual Wings Over The Rockies Bird Festival is taking place.

Over 265 bird species have been recorded in this 150 km stretch of the Columbia Valley Wetlands, in habitats as diverse as grasslands, forest and alpine meadows. It is one of the longest systems of continuous wetlands in North America.

The festival includes over 50 educational events and activities such as guided nature walks, river trips, horseback riding in the grasslands, evening presentations and much more.

This year’s theme is Citizens for Science,  where the public gathers valuable information for bird conservation. The keynote speaker is Dick Cannings, an active naturalist, conservationist, writer, broadcaster and scientist since his childhood days where he roamed the wild places of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

For full details on Wings Over The Rockies, check their website

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Filed under: Birdwatching Events, , ,

Arson Birds

A sparrow is apparently the culprit behind a fire at a shop in Lincolnshire, England that caused £250,000 ($450,000 Cdn) worth of damage.

At first, the owner of the store and the fire brigade were at a loss as to what started the blaze. An investigation immediately after the fire found no electrical or gas faults.

Then the forensic investigator from the insurance company, AXA, told the shop owner they had enough evidence to conclude that it was a sparrow that took up a cigarette end into the roof.

Insurance investigators concluded that a sparrow must have picked up a smouldering cigarette butt and deposited it among the dry twigs of its nest under the eaves. Thirty-five cigarette ends were eventually found in various sparrows’ nests in the roof.

An AXA spokesman said: ‘We believe it’s the first case of its kind we’ve ever had to deal with. We had to bring in a specialist to investigate.” I’ve certainly never come across this sort of thing before. It’s strange to think how such a little bird armed with such a small object could cause such chaos.”

Oh, and the species? It was a house sparrow.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

Filed under: Songbirds, , ,

Barn Owl Burbs

Do you have barn owls on your life list? Me neither.

Worldwide, they have a very wide distribution. They are found in the Americas, in most of Europe, in non-Saharan Africa, India, South East Asia and Australia

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

These light coloured owls with their heart shaped facial disk are not easy to find in Canada. There are small numbers of them in southern Ontario and Quebec, but their main population is in southern British Columbia. There  have been a few sightings in other provinces, but no nesting sites reported.

The population in BC is estimated at approximately 1,000 individuals, and classed as an animal Of Special Concern. The very small populations In Ontario and Quebec, are classed as Endangered.

The BC barn owls may be getting a hand from orchard owners in Oregon. There is a growing movement there to put up as many barn owl nest boxes as possible to reduce the rodent populations. One family of hungry barn owls can consume more than 3,000 rodents in a nesting season, a fact that has not escaped their notice.

“Voles and gophers cost us more money than you can possibly imagine,” said orchardist Mike Omeg. They eat the roots of young fruit trees or damage the roots of older trees so they don’t bear as well. The cost to farm production can tally in the thousands of dollars a year.”

“The number one limiting factor for barn owls is nesting sites,” said Omeg, who has installed 35 owl boxes and two kestrel boxes on his 350 acres.

As with other wildlife species, urbanization decreased their populations due to the lack of nesting sites, and the resulting drop in prey species. Unlike other animals though, barn owls respond well to a helping hand from the human usurpers of their territory. They are particularly fond of nest boxes provided by land owners, and sometimes prefer them to other sites.

Increases in barn owl populations were noted in Britain after nest boxes were put up. The main characteristics required for a barn own next box are: they have to be dark, with a small opening,  at the same height as natural sites in the area, in an undisturbed area and with the entrance facing an open area to allow for takeoff. They have to be maintained and cleaned regularly. You can get more information on building barn owl nest boxes here.

If you live in a rural area of southern BC, Ontario or Quebec, give a thought to putting up a barn owl nest box. Not only will the owls thank you, but you’ll be thanking the owls when your mice and rats disappear!

Check the Ontario Barn Owl Recovery Project website for more details or listen to the Barn Owl’s call at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.

Filed under: Owls, , ,

Calling All Loon Watchers

Bird Studies Canada is looking for your help.

common-loon1

Bird Studies Canada photo

Anyone who has listened to their wild call echoing across a tranquil northern lake can appreciate how the Common Loon has become a much-loved wilderness symbol. The loon has a special place in the hearts of many lakeside residents and visitors, and is deeply missed in its absence.

The Canadian Lakes Loon Survey was first initiated in Ontario in 1981 to assess the long-term health and productivity of Common Loons, and the lakes they depend on. Loons breed on lakes throughout most of Canada, and as top predators, their survival reflects broader lake health. Each year, hundreds of volunteer participants spend time observing loons on lakes where they breed in Canada: at least once in June (for loon pairs), once in July (for newly hatched chicks), and once in August (for young that survive to fledge). This information is used to monitor loon chick survival over time, and is an important indicator of loon and lake health.

Contact Information:

Canadian Lakes Loon Survey
Bird Studies Canada
P.O. Box 160, 115 Front Street
Port Rowan, ON N0E 1M0
Ph. 1-888-448-2473 ext. 212
Fax: 1-519-586-3532
E-mail: aqsurvey@bsc-eoc.org

Filed under: Waterfowl, , ,

Nest Watchers Needed

nest-watch

Do you have any feathered friends nesting in your yard? If so, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology would like to hear from you.

They have established a Nest Watch program to help gather breeding bird information across the North American continent.

Nest watchers are invited to register their nest box (or boxes) at  the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Register Your Netbox program. It’s free and yields valuable information about breeding birds and how their natural rhythms may be changing.

Everything you need to register your nest box and get started is available online, including directions on how you can monitor nest boxes without disturbing the birds.

Popular NestCams are back in action! Peek into nests and nest boxes via live cameras focused on Eastern Bluebirds, Barred Owls, Wood Ducks, Barn Owls and more.

Filed under: Birdwatching Events, , ,

Now That’s A Nest Site!

I was taking a birding drive on the weekend out to a large shallow lake which is filled with puddle ducks in the spring. Across the road from this lake is a landscaping company, and in preparation for their big season, they have a huge pile of wood chips to be used for mulch.

Scanning the sky for the peregrine falcon that usually hangs out around the lake, I burst out laughing when I saw a Canada Goose playing king of the castle on top of this 50+ foot high pile. Closer inspection revealed another goose sitting just below the king.  Neither of them moved during the hour or so we were there, so I can only surmise these misguided birds were sitting on a nest.

When you think about it, these eggs should hatch in record time. Heat from the parents’ body on top, and heat from the mulch pile below should really speed things up. Maybe not so misguided after all. It’s not like there’s a scarcity of nesting sites close by with a lake across the road.

King-of-the-hill Canada Geese

King-of-the-hill Canada Geese

Sky high goose nest

Sky high goose nest

Filed under: Waterfowl, , ,

Bird Quiz #1

And this species is....?

And this species is....?

So you think you know your Canadian birds? Have a look at our ten bird trivia questions below to test yourself.  Answers will be provided next week, but if you’re in a hurry for them just wing us an email!

  1. Which birds are the slowest fliers in the world?
  2. Which birds build such small nests the eggs are deposited in layers?
  3. Which birds are completely encased in feathers from head to toes?
  4. Which birds dive the deepest?
  5. Which birds were the official emblem of the Roman Army?
  6. Which birds consume the most ants?
  7. Which birds were the first domesticated bird species?
  8. Which birds enter controlled hypothermia to survive winter temperatures?
  9. Which birds are nicknamed ‘Canada bird’ for their song?
  10. Which birds have nestlings that feign death if disturbed?

Filed under: Weird & Wonky, , ,

We’ve Been Invaded

Bohemian waxwings in a spring mountain ash tree

Bohemian waxwings in a spring mountain ash tree

The yard this morning is filled with hundreds of Bohemian waxwings. They’re in all the trees, all the bushes and on the fences. It’s noisy out there! They have temporarily displaced a yard full of American robins who are not quiet this time of year either.

It’s been a great winter for the waxwings in Canada, as huge flocks have been reported in many provinces in the last few weeks. We’ve always had them in the yard, but never in such large numbers. There isn’t a berry left on any mountain ash tree for miles.

I was reading an interesting article this morning about the bird population in North America  shifting north. It seems they had more than 22,000 Bohemian waxwings in Anchorage, Alaska for their Christmas bird count, more than any other bird species.

Long-term global warming is prompting North American birds to winter farther north, according to the Audubon Society:

  • the American robin in now wintering 200 miles further north than it used to
  • birds that winter in Alaska that shifted their range the greatest distance north included the marbled murrelet, 361 miles; spruce grouse, 316 miles; red-breasted nuthatch, 244 miles; varied thrush, 229 miles
  • Texas now has fewer robins each winter, while New Hampshire has five times more

As the northern climate warms, the vegetation responds accordingly. While on the surface this influx of southern birds might make northern birders happy, there is a limit.

Northern species dependent on shore ice or northern tundra — both of which have been shrinking in recent years — aren’t as fortunate. Birds that nest on the tundra have nowhere further north to go. Birds like dunlins, sandpipers and murrelets could be in real trouble. The population of Kittlitz murrelets in Prince William Sound has declined by 84 percent over 11 years.

Things are changing drastically in bird world. No one knows how fast birds can adapt to the changing conditions, but we can at least be happy the Bohemian waxwing is a long way from being listed as an endangered species.

Filed under: Global Warming, Songbirds, ,

Okanagan Big Day Challenge

Get ready for the 24th annual Okanagan Big Day Challenge on May 17/09. This year we\’re going human-powered, so teams will have to bike, run, walk or sit to see their birds. We will have a motorized category, but that will be for the Little Big Day only, and those teams will have to remain within one of the valley\’s Christmas Bird Count Circles. Get your teams together and come to the Okanagan for a great weekend of birding.

The 24th Annual  Okanagan Big Day Challenge

Sunday, May 17, 2009 — Victoria Day Weekend

Big Day Challenge is one of the main events of the 11th annual Meadowlark Festival. Teams of birders regularly come from all over Canada and the Pacific Northwest to participate. The Okanagan Big Day Challenge is a friendly and fun-filled competition to see which team can see and hear the most species of birds in one day-midnight to midnight on Sunday, May 18-in the Okanagan Valley. Winning teams usually tally about 160 bird species. The all time record is 174! This year we\’re making teams bike, run, walk or sit to count birds–so the winning total will likely be in the 145 species range.

You don\’t need to be an expert to join in the fun! All that you need are some willing sponsors, a pair of binoculars, a group of people who love to walk around outdoors and try to identify birds, and someone to record what you see and hear.

New fossil-fuel-free rules

Birds can only be counted while biking, walking, running or sitting. You can drive to your starting point and get picked up at the end point, but your Big Day list can only include those species seen while under your own power.

Little Big Day

For those not wanting to deal with sleep deprivation, there is the \”Little Big Day,\” which involves 8 consecutive hours of birding on Sunday (this was formerly set from 0400 to noon, but we\’ve decided to relax this rule a bit). Birders in this category are allowed to use motorized transportation, but must remain within a Christmas Bird Count circle (24 km diameter).

If you\’d like further information about the Okanagan Big Day Challenge, contact Dick Cannings at dickcannings@shaw.ca

For more information on the Meadowlark Festival (or a copy of the Festival\’s brochure):

Meadowlark Festival, P.O. Box 20133, Penticton, BC, V2A 8K3   Email: meadowlarkfestival@osca.org

Filed under: Birdwatching Events, , ,

Live Streaming Eagles

Adult bald eagle

Adult bald eagle

I’m sitting here at my computer in Alberta, listening to the occasional squawks of a bald eagle sitting on a nest in British Columbia, with American robins and frogs in the background. You gotta love the internet!

Hancock Wildlife Federation has set up a live streaming video of a bald eagle nest located in a high tree. The two cameras were installed before the birds arrived, and will be running until the fledglings are gone. At this moment, one of the adults is sitting on the nest, carefully watching the surroundings, and waiting for its mate to return.

Eagle fanatics around the world are glued to this website, waiting for the big event. The chicks should be hatching any day now, pecking their way out of the shells with a temporary pip tooth at the end of their beak. Once they have no further use for it, the pip tooth will fall off.

I’ve discovered that if I open seond tab on the internet, or another program on the computer, I can leave the eagle cam on in the background. When another bird gets too close, or the mate comes back, the eagle calls alert me to something happening, and I can quickly switch over. And in the bottom right hand corner of the video you can quickly switch to a full screen view. A word of warning, though.

Ooh a flock of Canada geese flew over the nest – that got the eagle’s attention. And just now the adults changed places. One of them has a black mark on the tip of it’s beak, and other doesn’t. Looks to me like there are three eggs in there.

As I was saying. A word of warning before you go to the site. If you have anything you have to get done over the next few days – do not look at the eagle cam! This thing is beyond addicting, and absolutely guaranteed to keep you glued to your computer.

On the bright side though, I guess you could get a lot of other computer work done while waiting for the eggs to hatch…And if you crank up the volume, you can even hear the eagle squawks when you’re in the next room – I checked.

You can watch the eagle cam here – as long as you’ve got all your work done…

Filed under: Raptors, , ,

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