Birdwatching Canada

A voice for the northern birds

The Taming of #710

In The Field Report From Operation Migration Whooping Cranes

If you have followed this project for any length of time you will know that the single message we repeat at every opportunity is please don’t approach our birds. That request is posted on many partners websites; accompanies every press release; and punctuates our presentations but still there are those that don’t heed the warning.

Teaching birds to migrate is not an easy task. It takes a year-long commitment for every generation we release, and a crew of twelve to compete the migration. Adding an isolation protocol and removing all human elements multiplies the complexity by a factor of ten. We fly our aircraft with peripheral vision limited by goggles that hide our eyes and suffer through the heat of July in full-length costumes. We restrict all access to a small, but essential crew; keep the birds away from buildings and cars, and ensure that their every experience is as natural as we can make it.

Simple tasks like cutting the grass on the training strips adjacent their Necedah enclosures, or making repairs requires extra people to sequester the birds away from the area while the work is completed. Each migration stopover we select must have an isolated area to place the pen and another one to hide the birds while it’s set up. And all the while we live in fear that someone will approach the birds in the belief that their curiosity takes precedence over our hard work.

There are those that believe that our protocol excludes everyone but them; and others that feel tameness in wild animals is a fact of life and that only those that have learned to live in proximity to people will survive.

But Whooping cranes are a paradigm of the kind of wildness that exists beyond the backyard in the regions outside the security of a park. They are denizens of the open and inaccessible wetlands and surely we can make a space for them to exist as they were meant to be.

Most of the people who follow this project understand what we are trying to achieve but there are also those who choose to ignore it. Among them a woman who lives on Tooke Lake in Florida where crane #710 and four other birds wintered last year. The local residents understood the problem of the five cranes being attracted to backyard songbird feeders and agreed to stop the practice while the tracking team used all their tools to flush them away. But one woman ignored the pleas and continued to provide food to attract them.

Of the five birds that used her feeder, number 710 was the worst offender. Completely tamed to people and cars he began to frequent the ethanol plant near the Necedah Refuge once he returned to Wisconsin. Attracted by a free meal of spilled corn, he became accustomed to trucks and traffic. His presence there attracted other birds and often as many as 9 were there at one time. The tracking team tried using our swamp monster but it only worked for a short time and Mylar strips hung on string only worked for a day or so. It didn’t take long before 710 realized that no harm came to him if he didn’t fly away.

Above and beyond the job of monitoring the 79 birds that are now in this population, keeping 710 away from the ethanol plant became a constant problem for the Tracking Team. Believing he was completely corrupted and beyond rehabilitation and any chance of ever being wild again they asked WCEP and the Recovery Team for permission to remove 710 from the study. So last Tuesday he was captured and temporarily moved to the International Crane Foundation. Yesterday, he was relocated to the Lowry Park Zoo in Florida to spend the remainder of his life as a captive display bird.

The ethanol plant will continue to be an attraction to our birds. It is very visible from the air and the spilled corn must be tempting. Maybe in the future we can use a well trained dog as a constant deterrent or treat the spilled corm with foul tasting chemicals. We could try to relocate persistent birds or use a handheld lazar gun called an avian dissuader to flush them away.

After the extreme measures it took to get 710 into the wild and after completing two round-trips to Florida and back on his own, it seems a shame that he will never fly again.

But maybe his fate will reinforce our message that kindness kills wildness and Whooping cranes need a place of their own.

More details on Operation Migration


Filed under: Migration, , ,

Baby Robins Dropping Down

It’s late spring in North America, and across the continent baby or fledgling robins are dropping out of their nests. This seems a strange way to propogate the species, but for generations adult robins have been giving fledglings a boot. They can fly a few feet, but spend most of their time on the ground.

People are always concerned that this baby bird has fallen out of its nest and needs help. The truth is he was pushed out of the nest to get on with the business of growing up. DO NOT PICK THEM UP. Don’t take them to a zoo or wildlife rehab centre.

Baby or fledgling robin

Baby or fledgling robin

It may seem cruel to us, but this is the way robins conduct their family life, and judging by the number of robins in the country, it works. The best thing for you to do is keep dogs and cats away while the youngster gets his bearings. He’ll move along in a little while.

Baby robins look something like their parents, but have speckled chests, and fluffy down feathers poking out here and there. Yes he looks helpless, but they manage to survive in huge numbers.

Just think of them as the true image of spring, and keep the dogs and cats away. Use their presence in your yard as an opportunity for a nature talk to the kids, which will be a lot more help to the birds!

Filed under: Songbirds, , ,

Walloping Woodpeckers

Work crews in a Texas city have been busy replacing more than 20 woodpecker damaged light poles, at a cost of more than $30,000. The city considered replacing the wooden light poles with steel beams, but the cost would have doubled.

The poles, installed in 2002, were planned to have a life expectancy of at least 25 years.

The birds carved holes more than 12 feet long within the poles, providing nest areas for woodpeckers, hawks and flying squirrels. The cavities apparently weaken poles and make them subject to falling down in high winds or ice storms.

A biologist for the Wildlife Department said woodpeckers damage utility poles for three main reasons — setting up territories, attracting mates during breeding season and constructing a nest cavity. Woodpeckers also chase insects that invade outer portions of the older poles.

Instead of spending $30,000 to replace wooden poles with more wooden poles, perhaps the city should just install attack spiders.

At 18" (47 cm) the Pileated is Canada's largest woodpecker

At 18" (47 cm) the Pileated is Canada's largest woodpecker

An enterprising entrepreneur has invented the Birds-Away Attack Spider. It’s a battery operated, sound activated device to be installed where woodpeckers are a problem. When the dinner-plate sized gadget detects a loud noise, it drops down its 18 inch string and makes a loud noise that scares away the bird. Then the device climbs back up its string to await the next victim.

Testimonials on the website report, with varying degrees of glee, that the device has terrorized pets, deer, children and unsuspecting package-deliverers as well as woodpeckers.

Filed under: Woodpeckers, ,

Golf Birds

Wood storks, cormorants, herons, and egrets at a golf course pond in Florida. Photo University of Florida.

Wood storks, cormorants, herons, and egrets at a golf course pond in Florida. Photo University of Florida.

The proliferation of golf courses around the world is a trend that shows no sign of stopping. While yes, the native habitat is replaced,is not necessarily bad for the bird life. And no, I’m not a golfer.

Most courses have water of some sort, even those in the dry prairies and desert areas. Birds of all kinds are quick to take advantage of this new water source. The wide open spaces are perfect for Canada geese, who love to munch the short grass. The increase in the number of golf courses is actually instrumental in the increasing numbers of Canada geese – and their droppings – everywhere around the world. They seem to be immune to the chemicals used to keep the grass green and healthy. One golf course in Calgary is on the Bow River, and each year there are portions of the course off-limits due to masses of little yellow goslings. Golfers come second in the spring.

No matter what the area’s natural habitat, golf course designers usually add trees to the edges, which become songbird habitat. I actually gave up golf because I was spending far more time bird watching than ball watching.  My husband gleefully reported seeing a Vermilion flycatcher on a course in Arizona, a species I’ve been trying to see for years. Maybe I gave up the golf too soon. We need more golf course owners putting up bird houses for cavity nesting birds though.

If you’re golfing in the Rocky Mountains or northern Canada, keep an eye out for ravens. My brother-in law was golfing the best round of his life last weekend. Midway through the round, a raven swooped down and stole his golf ball. These incredibly clever birds never miss a trick, and round and white looks edible from their viewpoint! While we got a great deal of amusement over the incident, you have to feel sorry for the raven when he discovered he couldn’t eat his prize.

A few years ago I was doing a shift at the local bird sanctuary, while my husband was on the golf course. He came home and proudly announced he had gotten an eagle. With my mind still on birdwatching, my first response was “how in the hell did you hit an eagle with a golf ball?”  The look on his face was priceless, but I soon realized he was talking about his golf score, not a live eagle.

As a bird watcher, I am continually muttering about the construction of more and more golf courses. Apparently the birds are adapting to them faster than I am.

Filed under: Weird & Wonky, , ,

Featured Feathers: Siskins

Pine siskin

Pine siskin

Pine siskins are members of the Finch family, and are presently at my feeders in both the front and back yards. The name ‘siskin’ comes from the Scandinavian word for ‘a chirper.’

These little brown birds have prominent streakings of yellow at the base of the tail and in the flight feathers.They are about 4-5 inches high, with a wingspan of 7-8 inches. Finches are a gregarious lot, and siskins can often be found in mixed flocks of American goldfinches in the summer and redpolls in the winter.

Their calls are generally a raspy chittering. You may also hear a harsh, grating “zreeeeeeet” which gets higher towards the end.

Seed eating birds with stout conical bills, finches have large jaw muscles and powerful gizzards to deal with hard seeds. Their beaks are modified for holding and shelling seeds – a seed is wedged into a special groove at the side of the mouth and crushed by raising the lower jaw onto it. The husk is then peeled off with the tongue, releasing the kernel, which is then swallowed.

Pine siskins forage in flocks, usually high in the tree canopy, and often hang upside down on tips of conifers. Frequent visitors to backyard feeders, they are fond of niger thistle seed and are presently enjoying my shelled sunflower seeds. They also eat tree buds, insects and spiders.

They can be found across Canada, but nest in the western provinces and territories. Nests are a shallow saucer of twigs, grasses, leaves, weed stems, rootlets, bark strips, and lichens, lined with fur, feathers, grass, moss, or thistle down. Usually well concealed, the nests are placed near the end of a horizontal tree branch.

Filed under: Songbirds, , ,

How Smart Is a Crow?

I knew members of the Crow or Corvidae family were smart, but this video blew me away! He tries it, thinks about it, then fixes the problem. Too spooky!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “How Smart Is a Crow?“, posted with vodpod

Filed under: Songbirds, Uncategorized, , ,

Warbler Help

Any bird watcher will tell you that identifying warblers is hard. Next to impossible sometimes.

I’ve just stumbled across a beautiful blog from Ontario that currently offers pictures and information on some warblers on her latest post. If you’re interested in warblers – and most birders are – then take a look at W-Week Warblers.

Filed under: Songbirds, ,

A 14,500 km Hiking Trail

Trans Canada Trail

Trans Canada Trail

Are you up for a long walk?

There is a massive undertaking in Canada to create an 18,000 km recreational corridor which will wind its way through every province and territory, linking over 800 communities along its route. When completed, this will be the longest trail of its kind in the world, connecting our regions, our three oceans and our people in a new way for generations to come.

Detailed information on The Trail

“Where exactly is the trail?” is by far the most popular question asked of Trail staffers. People want to locate the Trail in their area, plan trips, or find pavilions. Our new Trail Locator allows you to click on a map and find the Trail anywhere in Canada. You will be able to find pavilions, link to directions and even use the postal code lookup, which allows you to enter your postal code and locate the Trail nearest you.

The Trans Canada Trail is over 70% complete and now within half an hour of over 80% of Canadians. That’s 14,500 km of trail! Locate a Trail section here.

Or follow updated information on the Stories From The Trail Blog

Filed under: Uncategorized, ,

Help Our Boreal Birds

Ruby-crowned kinglet in the boreal forest

Ruby-crowned kinglet in the boreal forest

Save Our Boreal Birds is a joint effort supported by a variety of environmental groups who are concerned about the future of the Boreal Forest and its birds.

They have been collecting signatures on a petition to present to government requesting action to protect the boreal forest and the birds that breed in the forest. The action is supported by a number of well-known conservation groups, including Federation of Alberta Naturalists, Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada.

So far they have over 60,000 signatures, but are making a last-minute pitch for more signatures before presenting the petition to government agencies on May 12.

If you are concerned about the plight of Canadian boreal birds and have not already signed the petition, you might want to go to their website and follow their links to sign the petition electronically.

The website and petition are available at

Filed under: Uncategorized, , ,

A Friday Funny

It’s a cold, rainy Friday here. I’m listening  to a yard full of red-winged blackbirds who sing the same song over, and over, and over from dawn to dusk. It doesn’t matter to them if it’s raining or not, they’re still singing!

A cheerful note was added to my day when a friend sent me this Yellow Warbler picture, which makes me laugh every time I look at it.

This is truly an excellent example of a photographer being in the right place at the right time, and with the right camera!  How come I never get so lucky?

Filed under: Songbirds, ,


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