Welcoming back our feathered friends

Welcoming backSpring is a busy time, not only for getting that much-needed spring cleaning done but also to prepare for the return of our feathered friends from their long migration. These birds have traveled far – some up to thousands of kilometers – and so what better way to greet them than by doing some preparation work that will make their return smooth.

One of the most important things to know is when different species of birds return to your area. The best way to keep track of this is to write it on your calendar or keep a diary. You can also contact your local ornithology group or consult with us to see what species have already returned.

With many birds on the move in the spring, you can prevent accidental window collisions by placing feeders either within 3m of the window or 10m away. [Read more…]

Changing Colours with the Seasons

American Goldfinch

Moulting is the process of shedding something old to give way for something new. In birds, moulting involves replacing some or all their feathers at least once a year, usually in the fall. For many birds, this means having fresh feathers for the long migration ahead, the most dangerous time of the year for most birds. Blackpoll Warblers, for example, need perfect plumage to undertake their incredible migration and complete a non-stop 88-hour 3,000 km flight over the Atlantic Ocean.

ChickadeeSome species such as the Cardinal or the Chickadee merely use the annual moult to refresh their plumage; the feather colours remain the same all year-round. Others, however, use the moult as an opportunity for change. Vibrant breeding colours are swapped for camouflage, either adapted to the winter conditions for those that stay, or for the long journey and winter habitats of migratory species. And that means going through a second moult in the spring, to regain the breeding colours.

American GoldfinchAmerican Goldfinches are an example. The bright yellow male of summer is still at your feeders all winter; he’s just not yellow anymore but has assumed colours more like the female’s greyish green. Most warblers will do the same; the bright blues, oranges, yellows, stripes and patterns of the summer are exchanged for drab greens, olives and yellows that make most species appear very similar to one another.

Many birds will have this pattern of being colourful in the summer and camouflaged in the winter. However, there are some exceptions. Ducks are a perfect example. Unlike most other birds which usually meet on the breeding grounds or are already mated, ducks usually bond in the winter and migrate back as a pair to the breeding grounds. It thus makes sense to have your best attire in the winter when it is time to impress the ladies. Have you ever noticed that there are no male duck to be seen in July and August? This is because Ducks moult their flight feathers in the summer and during this time they will have a hard time flying. Bright colours and flightlessness are not a good combination when there are predators around, so males ducks take on the drab appearance of the females during this dangerous time.

The Bird’s Eye View

Great Horned Owl

While we revel in the beauty of their plumage and admire the magnificence of their flight, to really appreciate them it actually helps to understand how birds see the world around them. Their eyes’ focus, perspective and colour sense are finely-tuned adaptations needed to locate food, evade predators, and navigate through perils.

Compared to our own eyes, and those of most other mammals, bird eyes provide better and wider ranging colour vision, greater depth of field, and much faster ability to focus. On the other hand, most birds are not able to move their eyes, and must turn their heads instead. If eyes are on either side of the head, they have a wide field — useful for detecting predators. Conversely birds of prey typically have forward-facing eyes, thereby benefitting from binocular vision, allowing them to judge perspective and distances accurately. [Read more…]

Designing a Bird-Friendly Garden

Imagine you were looking for a new home. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to fly from one property to another, have a quick look around at the layout, décor and local amenities, and then have the owner beg you to move into the one you like best? That’s what it’s like being a bird!

We’d all love to attract our feathered friends into our gardens, but they can be quite picky about what they expect from their surroundings. If the spring sunshine is spurring you to look at your garden and think about its design, keeping in mind the needs and desires of the birds you’d like to attract will help inspire your efforts.

A garden will appeal to avian visitors by providing food, water and places to hide and nest. Here we suggest a few simple guidelines that will soon pay off in sightings of many new species. [Read more…]

Trapped by fishing line

Juvenile Ring-billed gullEarly in July, we received a call from Auberge Zen (an animal shelter in Laval) about a “seagull” found entangled in fishing line, suspended in mid-air by its feet. With the help of the local Laval fire department, the bird was eventually detangled, and transported to Le Nichoir.

The preliminary examination showed that the juvenile ring-billed gull had no external injuries and had not suffered any dislocation from being suspended by its’ feet, with both legs responding positively to reflex tests. However, at this point the young bird was underweight and was still lying on its stomach with both of its legs extended backwards. It was questionable whether the gull would be able to recover use of both legs. After being treated with anti-inflammatory medication, the gull was moved to the Quiet Room, where it could recover away from the public eye.

To our surprise the next day, the ring-billed gull was standing upright on both legs and had eaten all of its’ fish! The bird maintained a healthy appetite and was walking in its’ carrier putting weight on both legs equally, showing no signs of discomfort.

A week later, after a thorough re-evaluation, we moved the bird outside to one of our aquatic aviaries to monitor if it could cope walking in a larger area, and most importantly, if it could swim. There were three other ring-billed gulls of approximately the same age already in the aviary, and as soon as we opened the transport box, the gull jumped right out. It stretched and flapped out both of its wings, made small jumps across the aviary chattering to the other two birds the whole time. It eventually made its way to the pool, dove in head first, and paddled its way to the other side. In a few days, we noticed that the gull was flapping its’ wings. It was time for it to be released.

The ring-billed gull was released on July 21st at Vaudreuil-sur-le-lac, Quebec with the help of our volunteers.