February 2nd – An Early Spring?

Well the votes are in: our two famous furry prognosticating rodents, Wiarton Willy and Punxsutawney Phil, have agreed that it will be an early Spring – they didn’t see their shadows! I’m not sure what this indicates as we haven’t had much of a Winter. January had relatively mild temperatures and very little snow. The fact that the Grand River is wide open, without a hint of ice, tells the story. Sort of feels like Spring is almost upon us anyway – so not much of a challenge for the little furball seers.

Fern Hill Oakville endorses an attitude that is near and dear to my heart (stomach?) – food brings people together. Friday is food day at the school and the staff bring in a wide array of goodies from donuts to salads to home made buns to chili….for everyone. It’s always a good day to be banding…. -DOL

As I’m sure you’re well aware (if you’ve read this blog for any length of time), without cold and snow we don’t get Snow Buntings. And that certainly has been the case so far. (But hope springs eternal….there’s snow falling outside and Nancy is on her way to bait our bunting site, trying to forget that the forecast for the next couple of days calls for melting warm temperatures….) Needing a banding “fix” I banded at Ruthven on Thursday and Fern Hill Oakville on Friday, with great results:
at Ruthven I banded 35 birds and had 33 retraps for a total of 68 birds handled and at Fern Hill I banded 50 with 22 retraps for a total of 72. The intent of this banding is a) to tag the birds that are using the site for the Winter and b) through retrapping to see what birds use the site month by month, year by year.

I always find it interesting how different the banding mix is between the 2 sites despite the fact that they’re only about 25 km apart as the bird flies. Check out the lists:
Ruthven; Banded 35:
1 Mourning Dove
6 Dark-eyed Juncos
8 House Finches
20 American Goldfinches

The field studies program at Fern Hill Oakville is highly successful because it is enthusiastically supported by ALL of the staff. Here Jen Pierce, a Grade-1 teacher, is about to release a male House Finch – her first banded bird. -DOL

Fern Hill Oakville; Banded 50:
7 Mourning Doves

A very pleasant surprise – a female Red-bellied Woodpecker: Katherine’s “spirit bird” (because it squawks so much?). -KAP

1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
3 Downy Woodpeckers
1 Black-capped Chickadees
2 Northern Cardinals
1 Dark-eyed Junco
5 House Finches
2 American Goldfinches
28 House Sparrows

Although I like to amass banding totals, I take great pleasure from recapturing birds that were banded some time ago. Some of these are local residents that we see regularly while others are migrants that, at this time of year, use Ruthven/Fern Hill as their Winter “homes”. And remember: many of these returnees are coming back to these spots because they’ve learned that the regularly replenished feeders are a life-giving source of food. Check out some of these recaptures:
Juncos: December 2018, April 2019, Fall 2019
Goldfinches: March 2017 (not seen in 2019), April 2018, January 2019, May 2019
Downy Woodpeckers: October 2014, July 2017
Tufted Titmouse: October 2018

Fern Hill Oakville:
American Tree Sparrow: November 2016 (this is the only ATSP that I’ve seen at either site this Winter – very concerning!)
House Sparrow: Fall 2018 (after banding this bird was moved 8 km to the east but, obviously, has returned)

One of the ways that we begin to get “young ornithologists” involved is to start them off as scribes – they can do an excellent job, on the one hand, and exposes them to the type of morphological data that we want to collect. -KP

It was a busy banding table on Friday. -KAP

Way back in the late 70’s when I started banding, it was an unwritten rule that you didn’t waste bands on House Sparrows. Some folks even advocated for their eradication. They compete with bluebirds and Tree Swallows for nest boxes and will take the boxes over, sometimes killing the previous occupants. But…..they’re birds and if you think of birds as “indicator species” – organisms that can give you a heads up as to what is happening in various environments – then they’re well worth monitoring. And House Sparrows, like most other birds, are having a hard time. The 2nd Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas showed a marked decline of this species in Ontario. We need to try to figure out what’s going on and, in that regard, they’re a good bird to watch. I’m quite getting to like House Sparrows. So over the last few years we’ve tried an alternative strategy – we move the sparrows to another location, away from our boxes. This has had mixed results. We get very few House Sparrows at Ruthven to start with but those we move (Carol usually takes them to the other side of Caledonia) we don’t see again. There are lots of House Sparrows at Fern Hill’s Oakville campus. Those we move >20 km we don’t see again; those <10 km we do (as the above example demonstrates). But at Fern Hill we're inconsistent as we just can't drop everything and take off whenever we catch one so most are just banded and released and we've been moving the next boxes farther away from the campus. Rick

2 thoughts on “February 2nd – An Early Spring?

  1. Growing up in Scarborough in the 60’s and 70’s, I remember American House Sparrows being the predominant bird. Last time I remember seeing healthy numbers was at a horse farm near Aurora where my daughter rode in the 90’s. Even though I maintained several feeders at our country home in King township for many years until 2015, I never saw the AHS again. Now living in Bobcaygeon, I have seen the drastic decline of regular feeder visitors – juncos, chickadees, cardinals, mourning doves, finches (none this winter) in just 5 years. Very sad.

  2. Yes, growing up in east Hamilton House Sparrows seemed to be everywhere but their numbers have nosedived….everywhere it seems. Interesting that your feeder birds have declined so markedly – it’s got to be concerning.

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