Sunday, December 20, 2015

Counting backyard birds

More from the "when I get a round tuit" files; these are from 'way back in 2009.

Cedar waxwings in budding magnolia tree, Strathcona, Nov. 2013

I posted the original of this photo, back then, but I was not happy with it. I had taken it with a point-and-shoot, from a distance, against the light, on a dull, grey day, and tried to fix it with free photo-processing software. I gave it another try tonight, with better software and a clearer screen.

That day in 2009, the centre of Strathcona (almost downtown Vancouver) was alive with flocks of crows, sparrows, and cedar waxwings; crows on the rooftops, sparrows in the hedges, and all the treetops sporting their flashes of yellow waxwing breasts.

Tree over MacLean Park. With waxwings.

I checked back: I've seen a flock of waxwings at the Centennial Park duck pond, in 2011, and solitary birds several times at the Reifel Island bird sanctuary, the last one in August of 2012. Since then, not one.

It's a pattern. We used to have families of chickadees at my door, emptying the feeders almost daily, chattering at me as I tried to do a bit of weeding. This last year, there were never more than half a dozen at Laurie's feeder, none at mine.

A busy, mixed flock of juncos, towhees, chickadees, and assorted sparrows ate in my free restaurant every day for years. Last year, I was happy to see one or two juncos.

I saw one varied thrush this summer. No flickers. No goldfinches. No house finches. One Steller's jay. One wren, three whole times. No golden-crowned sparrows. No bushtits. No nuthatches at my feeder; one did turn up at Laurie's feeder a few times.

I've been wondering what caused this disappearance. Pollution? Plastics? More and more buildings going up; noise and smoke and smells? Pesticides; fewer insects (yes, I've noticed that, too) mean less food for hungry young birds. Climate shift? All those co-ordinated schedules of insect and bird lifestyles being offset?

I don't know. But I definitely can see the results.

Is it just Vancouver area? The Fraser Valley? The Lower Mainland? Maybe. There are more birds on the water and the beaches here in Campbell River than there have been in Boundary Bay for some years. And I'm hearing sparrows twittering in hedges as I pass.

Two days ago, I hung out a suet cage for the chickadees. I had only seen one chickadee here, standing on a tree on the front lawn. Maybe he'd notice the feeder next visit.

And yesterday, I looked out, and there was a whole flock of bushtits working on that suet! Yay!

Tomorrow, I'll put out sunflower seeds, too.


  1. A little comfort - I think birds have patterns that we don't know yet and haven't discerned. Sometimes they come to our yard for years and then - not for years - and then again. If we stay that long. I've seen it in Ibis and Herons here in Florida - there are roosting places along canals. For years they will be filled with the white ornaments of birds at sunset every night - and when you drive by at night, they are there, some still quietly snorting "" because other birds are moving and disturbing them. Then, you drive by and notice there is not a single bird in the trees. For a few years - and then they're back. I have no idea why because no one that I know of is studying this. If I ever come across studies of this sort, I'll make note.

    Also - when you put out feeders, as you know, it takes a little time for the birds to pass the information along. Don't you wonder how they do it? I know that birds have several sounds. You can look up a bird on the internet and click to hear its' typical call, but most birds make many different sounds. I've heard Bluejays making little chortling noises like cooing, strident warning cries, informational calls - there is a bird language or languages. Isn't it wonderful? If only we could speak it.

  2. I also want to say that yes, indeed, the intrusion of man and his greed is hurting birds big time. I know it and anyone who cares can see it. I do what I can and you do what you can, and we let people know around us what we think and try to educate those that don't even notice birds.


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