Great Backyard Bird Count: How many birds will you find?
This year marks the 24th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual four-day event that brings together bird enthusiasts of all ages and folks who are new to birding from around the world to count birds.
This event creates a real-time snapshot of where the birds are, which helps us understand migration patterns, year to year changes and long term trends.
The Great Backyard Bird Count runs from Feb. 12-15. Participation is free, easy, highly enjoyable, and sometimes competitive.
Birds are a ton of fun to watch because they share similar behaviours to humans. By participating, you’re submitting data that is invaluable to the enrichment of ornithological research and by sharing your results you are joining so many others becoming a citizen scientist.
To participate, bird watchers count birds they see or hear for a minimum of 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, or for as long as you like each day of the event. Keep a separate checklist for every location you visit and then enter your checklists at birdcount.org. Birding can take place anywhere from your back yard, eco-parks, nature reserves, water fronts, from your car or walking home from school. These efforts help researchers better understand global bird populations before one of their annual migrations. On a deeper and more personal level, this universal bird database is more than just a bird count; it demonstrates the importance of birds as indicators of climate change and whether we’re listening to the data.
Through discoverclearview.ca there will be a downloadable “Common Birds of Simcoe County” checklist to help you track and record your bird sightings. Information about available high school volunteer hours for participation in the ‘Wild about Birding’ webinar with Georgian Bay Wildlife (see below)from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 12 is all online. Free registration begins this weekend and is available to the first 100 people who sign up. If you want great success at this time of year get those bird feeders topped up or visit the shorelines where waterfowl are present. Sometimes driving the back roads and patiently scanning the fields will prove rewarding.
To learn more about and how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit gbbc.birdcount.org.
Visit Birds Canada, www.birdscanada.org, to explore how to contribute and participate to birding in Canada.
The Snowy Owl
Each year as winter sets in and the arctic sends its cold blistery winds south, you can be sure arctic migrants are close behind; one notable visitor is the majestic snowy owl.
We know snowy owls breed in the arctic and migrate south each winter, but where can they be found when they arrive? These birds prefer hunting habitats that mimic their arctic summer grounds, so they are most comfortable in open fields and along frozen shorelines.
You can spot snowy owls driving along County Road 91, Fairgrounds Road, Highway 26 or on rural roads that are surrounded by extensive farmland.
These owls are quite comfortable on the ground but don’t forget to look up, because they love sitting on telephone poles, barns, houses, hay bales and trees. From these heights they use their phenomenal eyesight to spot their prey. Field mice, meadow voles, lemmings, weasels, hares, and rabbits make up their mammalian diet and ducks, gulls, and grebes make up their avian diet.
Snowy owls are Canada’s largest owl, weighing around four pounds, with a wingspan of 4.5 feet.
Distinguishing males from females can be challenging. Basically, male adult snowys are white. The whiter they are, the older they are. Female adults will show dark barring all over when young and the barring will fade as they age. The top of a female’s head will show barring as well, and a male’s head will be white. Female snowys are also larger than male snowys, a condition known as reverse sexual dimorphism.
Juveniles have extensive dark barring all over their bodies and can be confused with young adult females. Young and old, they all share the same piercing yellow eyes.
Snowy owls show up each year in varying numbers and every several years make a large appearance called an irruption. An irruption occurs when high numbers of snowy owls migrate south for the winter. When prey populations are high, owl broods will match resulting in more owls making the trip to their wintering grounds. For more information about snowy owl irruptions, visit www.projectsnowstorm.org/what-is-an-irruption.
Contrary to a popular myth, snowy owls are not starving when they reach their wintering grounds. Years of research into their body conditions have shown plenty of animals have above average body fat, also known as subcutaneous fat stored in their chest and wings.
Snowy owls are solitary birds that sit a lot, and hunt alone during the day and night, so they are both diurnal and nocturnal. This makes capturing a picture of them much easier, especially when they are fairly calm around traffic.
Remember, safety first when looking for owls or any bird while driving. Busy highways are not the safest place to track and take pictures; rather, quiet side roads are preferred. Remember to use your signals, and pull over as not to interrupt flow of traffic. On this note of safety, there are ethics for birding as well; the welfare of these owls is paramount if we want them to propagate. Spooking them or habituating them to food could lead to accidental fatalities. And take caution when walking onto a field, that field is owned by someone who may not want you treading on their property, so please show respect to property owners too. Believe me, unlike hawks and falcons, snowy owls are really chill birds and will likely sit long enough for you to snap a picture of a lifetime!
Andrew Major was born in Frobisher Bay, NWT and grew up in the countryside of Meaford. He currently lives in Clearview Township and brings a wealth of knowledge as a Wildlife Technician who studied at Sir Sandford Fleming College. Over the past 10 years he has run educational wildlife tours through georgianbaywildlife.com. Andrew has also been contracted throughout Canada to conduct bird, aquatic invert, fish, and herpetile environmental impact surveys. He is also the Birds Canada ambassador for Simcoe County. In addition to his love and passion for wildlife, Andrew holds an Honours degree in Classical History for Queen’s University and a Master’s degree in Roman Late Antiquity Studies from University of Ottawa. Major will be doing weekly spots on the peak FM each Friday, in partnership with Clearview Township.