Wildlife Weather Forecasters

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The geese are still here in Saskatchewan and flying low, not at the “50,000 foot” level used when migrating south and signalling that winter is really about to blow in. The beavers in this area have a lot of wood in front of their lodges – sign of a cold winter ahead! And the wasp nests are high off the ground – supposedly sign of a winter ahead with lots of snow.

This is a ‘forecast’ different than Environment Canada, which is saying El Nino, a large band of warm water near the equator in the Pacific Ocean, will result in weather much warmer than usual in most of Canada.

I don’t know whether the beavers, wasps or Environment Canada are right, but last week in Ottawa a few of us were talking about animal behaviour that indicates future weather, and several examples came up I had never heard of before from different places in Canada.

So after a bit more talk we agreed it was important to collect, preserve and use more of this kind of information about what wildlife behaviour tells you about the weather, so please share your stories with us!

Other examples we heard that day were:

  1. Wooly bear caterpillar – the wider the brown band on the wooly worm, the milder the winter will be.
  2. Squirrel – the bushier a squirrel’s tail in the fall, the colder the winter will be.
  3. Swallows – when swallows and swifts fly high to catch flying insects, expect warm weather.
  4. Bees/Butterflies – When bees and butterflies disappear from your flowerbeds, rain is on its way.

Remember to share your stories, knowledge (and pix if you have them) on what wild animal behaviours in your area help you anticipate the weather!

 

Rick Bates

Early Bird Migration

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My backyard bird feeders are in near constant use during the day now, with a lot of different and new birds.

 

This past weekend we had five yellow-shafted flickers in our yard at the feeder and eating seed I had spilled on the ground. We normally get the odd one but to have so many at one time was really unusual.

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The blackpolls, pine siskin, chickadees, nuthatches and other small birds are fattening up for fall so the trees and berry bushes are full of birds eating, resting, chattering and taking turns at the feeders. The younger birds are not yet in full fall plumage so identifying some of the birds is awfully challenging.

 

About three weeks ago I stopped at Dry Burrow Burn in southern Saskatchewan to check out an Important Bird Area my daughter and I monitor for piping plovers. I didn’t see a plover but the water levels have receded this year leaving a lot of exposed mudflat so it’s a huge improvement in the habitat for shorebirds. There were sanderlings, godwits, semi-palmated sandpipers, and many other shorebirds stopping to eat to fuel their migration south.

 

Time of migration depends on many things, length of day, availability of food, weather and so on, but the smaller birds like shorebirds and backyard songbirds seem to leave first, with the larger raptors a bit later, and, after fattening up on farmers’ grain, ducks and geese last to go.

 

Have you had any unusual sightings lately? Send pix!!

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Written by Rick Bates, Executive Director, CWF, in Regina

 

 

How can I let my cat go outside but deter it from killing birds?

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Each year in Canada, between 100 and 350 million birds are estimated to be killed by cats, not to mention the small mammals that fall prey to this non-native species.

The best advice is to keep your pet cat inside. Not only will you be helping to save songbirds but also your cat. It’s a dangerous world out there! Letting your cat outside to roam free can expose him/her to many dangers including cars, diseases, attacks by dogs and other cats, wildlife, extreme weather and the cruel behaviour of some individuals.

Given time, most outdoor cats can transition to a life indoors. By giving him/her lots of stimulation, play toys, scratch posts, and a litter box, your cat will soon get used to his indoor life.

However, there are a couple of options if you must let your cat outside and keep the birds safe too!

You can let your cat out on a leash and harness. This allows your cat to be outside yet under your supervision. Getting your cat used to this when he/she is young is usually best.

Another option is an outdoor cat enclosure. This way your cat can safely enjoy being outside while keeping wildlife safe. You can buy assembly kits, have your cat enclosure custom built or design your own.

Did You Know…..

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[PHOTO CREDIT: ISABELLE MAROZZO – CWF PHOTO CONTEST]

Did you know that blue jays are not really blue?

Their blue colouration does not come from pigments but rather by the structure of the feather.

If you find a blue jay’s feather, try this neat little experiment! If you hold the feather in your hand you will see that it looks blue. But if you hold the feather up to a bright light, it will look brown/grey. This is because the light is being transmitted through the feather; it is not being reflected back.  The brown/grey colouration comes from the melanin in the feathers.

Source

How Many Birds Die In Canada Each Year From Human Activities?

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[CWF PHOTO CONTEST PICTURE SUBMITTED BY MRS. DEBBIE OPPERMANN]

A new study was released by Environment Canada that shows how human activities in Canada affect wild birds, and the numbers are pretty astounding! The study estimates that, in Canada, nearly 269 million birds and 2 million nests are destroyed each year. Predation by cats and collisions with houses, vehicles and transmission lines together account for more than 95% of all human-related bird deaths.

Lets break down the numbers for these top 4 causes of bird deaths in Canada:

  • Cats (both feral and pet) are believed to be the largest human-related source of bird deaths – killing approximately 196 million birds in Canada every year
  • Bird mortality associated with collisions with houses in Canada each year is estimated to be about 22.4 million
  • Bird mortality associated with vehicle collisions is estimated at 13.8 million
  • Bird deaths associated with collisions with transmission lines across Canada is estimated at 25.6 million each year

Check out some of our resources below for tips on how we can help reduce the number of birds that die in Canada every year:

What An Eggshell Can Tell You

Herring Gull eggs

Image Credit

University of Guelph researchers studied nearly 700 herring gull eggs from the Great Lakes region and have found that based on egg colour they can determine environmental contamination levels.

Using a spectrophotometer to measure slight colour variation, researchers found that when contamination levels are higher the egg is not as blue-green as it would be in less contaminated areas.

Because all birds share the same two colour pigments in their eggs – brown and blue-green, it is possible that this study could be applied to other populations and used around the world.

Practice Makes Perfect

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[PHOTO CREDIT CWF PHOTO CONTEST, DESIREE DYCK]

While I knew birds use song for a variety of purposes such as to attract mates and to defend territories, I had no idea how much time and effort males put in to making their songs sound so pretty.

In an article I recently read it explained that before the breeding season males actually practice their song, changing the pitch and making other changes, until it is perfect. They are so inclined to get their song just-right that they practice their song hundreds of times a day.

Now that’s dedication!

Are Birds Singing Louder?

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[Photo Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology]

Does it seem like the birds in your area are singing louder than they did a few years ago? If you live in an urban area than this very well maybe the case, at least according to a new study by Dr. David Luther from George Mason University.

Dr. Luther studied male white-crowned sparrows in Presidio, San Francisco and he found birds that live in areas with lots of traffic noise actually sing louder. In fact, in comparing sparrow songs that were recorded in 1969 with songs recorded in 2005, they found that they are actually changing their tunes. These birds in 1969 had three distinct dialects, 30 years later they had 2 and now it is only their higher-range song, the song that can be heard over low-frequency ambient noise, that is becoming the preferred song to sing. After all, there’s no point in singing if other birds can’t hear you.

This study can be found in the Journal Animal Behaviour

Which Waxwing’s Which?

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[PHOTO: JESSE BUTT, CWF PHOTO CONTEST]

I have seen groups of waxwings from time to time. They swoop in, do their thing and then they’re gone. Once it was a summer day and they feasted on my elderberries. Another time it was cold and it seemed they were having a drink from the puddles on my driveway. So when I saw them the other day, I quickly grabbed my camera and took a bazillion photos before they flew off.

When I put the photos on my computer and zoomed in, I was able to determine that these birds were bohemian waxwings. They are named “bohemian” due to their nomadic ways of moving around in the wintertime. The “waxwing” comes from the brilliant red on the tips of their secondary wing feathers.

Bohemian waxwings are similar to cedar waxwings and I swear, no matter how many times I’ve looked them up, I still forget the differences. It doesn’t help that both their ranges are widespread across Canada. But thanks to this last experience, I think I’ve finally got it. Bohemian waxwings :

  • are a little larger than cedar waxwings. It’s hard to use this as a guide when they aren’t side by side, but they certainly looked largish when perched in the treetops. In case it helps, bohemians are ~21cm long while cedar waxwings are ~18cm, according to one of my favourite bird guides – Field Guide to the Birds of North America by the National Geographic Society.
  • have grey bellies. Cedar’s have a hint of yellow on theirs.
  • have bright yellow on their wings which the cedar waxwings don’t.
  • have reddy-brown undertail coverts. Those are the feathers on their undersides, below their belly and at the top of the tail. When the tail is spread out, it looks like the middle of the underside of the tail. The cedar waxwings have white undertail coverts.
  • have a white wing bar that you can sometimes see when they fly. Otherwise, it can look like a splotch on their wing when perched. Again, cedar waxwing’s don’t have this.

While not worthy of any photography contests, the photos I took helped me get my head straight on these birds. Click here to see some and maybe they’ll help you, too!

You’ll notice they are eating a blackish fruit. They are one of our alien invasive species of buckthorn. While I am glad they had food to eat, these shrubs are known to quickly take over natural areas, pushing out native plants that have important roles to play in our local ecosystems. You can do a lot of good by planting regionally native fruit bearing shrubs that will hold their fruit during the different portions of the winter and early spring. Some Canadian natives include rose bushes, highbush cranberry, sumacs, winterberry and Viburnums. To find out which species are suitable to your region and your garden, check out our Native Plant Encyclopedia.

You’ll be helping other fruit-eating birds, too, like any robins that decide to overwinter! You can continue to welcome bohemian waxwings in other months by gardening organically, so they can eat and feed their young healthy insects, as well as tree sap, flowers and buds.