Archives

Bird’s-Eye View of Local Nesting Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

It’s always fun during breeding season to watch live video of nesting birds from nest cameras around the world. There are some local ones that we provide links to each spring. The links given below are always also visible on our right-hand sidebar.

Calgary Zoo Osprey Nest Cam: This camera has been operating for many years. This year, the nest platform and camera were moved a bit downstream from its usual location, but he Ospreys are back and refurbishing the nest right now.

An April 18th still from the nest camera. From the Twitter feed of boooneill (@ koniell57).

Gray Jay Nest at Ellis Bird Farm: This was the first ever live view of a Gray Jay nest, so this one, operated by the Ellis Bird Farm north of Red Deer, attracted a lot of attention. Unfortunately the nest recently failed. There are still some videos at the link. If the birds re-nest this year and it can be located, new video may be available. The nest was located about 100 km north of Calgary. Information about this and other cameras operated by the Ellis Bird Farm can be found on their website here.

Normally we have a link to the popular University of Calgary Peregrine Falcon nest camera, but this year, the camera is no longer online. In addition, the recent pages with all of the observations from 2010 on have been removed. All that is left online are the historical observations from 1995-2009, so we have a link to that.

I have tried to find out more about this, but haven’t heard back from anyone about who operated the camera or if the link will ever be restored. But the web page was maintained through the U of C’s library and and cultural resources, and they have decided to remove that support as part of their 2017-2018 budget cuts.

The university prides itself on its community outreach, so it’s a shame that they decided to cut this. Perhaps if they got feedback from people who valued the project they would reconsider; if not this year, then next. You can contact the Community Engagement Team on this page, or Thomas Hickerson, Vice-Provost (Libraries) here.

Please leave a comment here if you have any information about this camera or any others in the Calgary area. In 2016 there was a nesting box installed at the top of the Foothills Hospital in the hopes of attracting more Peregrines, but again, I haven’t been able to find out if there is a nest camera or website this year.

Battling Bluebirds

Tony LePrieur photographed these two male Mountain Bluebirds having a bit of a tussle near Priddis, SW of Calgary, on April 8.

Mountain Bluebirds (males), near Priddis, April 8, 2017. Photo by Tony LePrieur.

The birds may have been battling over a good territory. Many bluebirds are back in the area now, but some of the females have not yet returned. Primarily an insect-eater, Mountain Bluebirds can get into real trouble when we get heavy snowfalls (like we’re having tonight), especially if it stays cold for an extended period. They will also eat berries.

One bluebird gets the upper hand!

The victorious male. Both birds were OK, but only one gets the territory.

Pileated Woodpeckers

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The spectacular crow-sized  Pileated Woodpecker is always a treat to see, and they are not very shy birds, so occasionally you can get great close-up looks at them. They are not common in Calgary. Look for them in three areas: Around the Glenmore Reservoir, including the Weaselhead, and upstream on the Elbow River through Griffith Woods Park; The west end of Fish Creek Park; The east end of Fish Creek Park on the Bow River, and north on the river as far as Carburn Park. They are year-round residents here, so look for them any time you are out in these parks. If you live near these areas you may also get them coming to suet or nut feeders occasionally.

All photos by Tony LePrieur.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Park, December 4, 2016.

In the above photo you can see the distinctive rectangular hole that these birds make when feeding. They eat Carpenter Ants, which often infest large trees and deadfall. If you see a fresh hole like this, often near the base of a large tree, you will know you are in a Pileated Woodpecker’s territory.

Female Pileated Woodpecker, Bebo Grove, Fish Creek Park, December 4, 2016.

The female above (likely the mate of the male in the first photo) is distinguished from the male by the black stripe from the bill to the throat, which is red in males. In addition, the red crest does not extend all the way to the front of the head on the female as it does on the male.

The nest hole of a Pileated Woodpecker is a large oval, usually high in a dead tree, or occasionally in a power pole (as seen in Griffith Woods Park). The male will make a new nest hole each year.

Below are more of Tony’s photos of Pileated Woodpeckers in Calgary.

Pileated Woodpecker (female), Fish Creek Park, January 31, 2016.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Fish Creek Park, November 26, 2015.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Fish Creek Park, October 25, 2015.

Pileated Woodpecker (male), Fish Creek Park, October 25, 2015.

For more photos of Pileated Woodpeckers see these posts.

You can see more of Tony LePrieur’s photos on his Flickr Page here.

Angry Birds! (…actually just Brown-headed Cowbird fledglings)

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Brown-headed Cowbirds are obligate nest parasites, so they do not nest or raise their own young – the female cowbird lays her eggs in a number of nests of other species. If the host birds don’t realize that they are incubating a foreign egg, they will feed the cowbird chick until it fledges and for a while afterwards, until it can forage on its own and rejoin its cowbird cousins.

image6 crop

Brown-headed Cowbird chick, just out of the nest and begging for food. (All photos taken by Tony LePrieur, July 1, 2016.)

Many of the songbirds that are parasitized in this way are quite a bit smaller than cowbirds, so it makes for a comical sight when the “parents” are feeding their giant “offspring”. It’s no joke for the host parents, though, as this is a great drain on their food-gathering resources, and it has a negative impact on their ability to raise their own biological young.

Tony LePrieur has recently seen a number of young cowbirds being fed by different hosts in the Calgary area. Thanks to Tony for these fantastic photos!

image1

Song Sparrow (left) feeding a Brown-headed Cowbird chick. Sikome Lake, Fish Creek Provincial Park.

image2

Calling for food from the host Song Sparrow.

image3

Another cowbird being fed by a Western Wood-Pewee, not far from the Song Sparrow and chick at Sikome, Fish Creek Park. This could very well be a biological sibling of the bird being fed by the Song Sparrow.

image4

The Western Wood-Pewee adult, probably a little worn out from trying to provide for the cowbird chick.

image1

Two cowbirds were being fed by a pair of Savannah Sparrows at Frank Lake, also on Canada Day.

crop

A close-up taken from the above photo.

image6

Those of you with teen-aged boys will know how this Savannah Sparrow feels 🙁

Cowbirds also often parasitize Clay-colored Sparrows and even smaller birds like Yellow Warblers and House Wrens, so if you see any of those species carrying food, watch to see if they are feeding cowbirds.

Do you have photos of birds taken in the Calgary area? Send them to us and we may post them on the blog! birdscalgary@gmail.com

 

Wee Little Nuthatch Nest Camera

Posted by Bob Lefebvre. Photos copyright by themorningsideoflife.ca.

An avid birdlover in Calgary has set up a nest box camera in her yard, affording great views of a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches that are trying to nest there. I say “trying” because after they brought in loads of nesting material, a pair of Black-capped Chickadees, working together very quickly,  moved in and cleaned it all out again. Then the nuthatches recaptured the box and are bringing in more grass and wood shavings to line their nest. (The chickadees settled into a different nest box in the yard.)

2016-03-15 16-33-49

One of the Nuthatches in the nest box, no doubt keeping a watch for Chickadees.

The nest box can be watched live on Ustream at this link. There are also many saved video clips that you can play to see what has happened up to now. The live camera is not always online, but it usually is during the daytime, and when it’s on you can comment on what you see using your Facebook or Twitter account. The nuthatches are most active at the nest from 6 to 10 am.

2016-04-05 08-45-32

The female nuthatch, named Lucy, at the nest box.

It will be extremely interesting to watch if they they do successfully have young. The vocalizations and behaviors recorded up to now are fascinating to see and hear. It’s a view of Red-breasted Nuthatches that we don’t usually get!

2016-04-12 09-28-21

The male nuthatch, named Ricky (of course), ready to drive off chickadees.

The camera link will be on on our right-hand sidebar throughout the nesting season, along with the Osprey and Peregrine Falcon camera links. The camera link can also be found at the camera owner’s blog, The Morning Side Of Life. Check it out for great bird photos. You can also find a link to her blog on our sidebar with the other blog links.

You might want to also check out a new Facebook group called Alberta Backyard Birds (& Feeder Watch) for more photos and discussion of yard birds.

Calgary Nest Cameras

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Peregrine Falcons have been back at the University of Calgary for a while now, and the female has laid four eggs. At the Calgary Zoo, the Ospreys are nesting on the platform there and have one egg laid. We have been lucky enough to be able to watch these birds raise their young via nest cameras for several years.

To see the Peregrines, go to this page and click the YouTube link.

The Zoo Osprey camera can be found at this page.

We will have a link to these sites on our right-hand sidebar throughout the breeding season.

14262811814_ca309a0c36_k

Osprey on the hunt. Photo by Dan Arndt.

If you want to see Ospreys in person, they can be found hunting almost anywhere along the river. There are many pairs nesting Calgary.

The Peregrines at the U of C can sometimes be seen perched on tall buildings on campus.

Wednesday Wings: Merlin with Rock Pigeon

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

I have often seen Merlins chasing Rock Pigeons, but it seems to be a very hard bird to catch. On April 10, 2015, near 19 Street NE and the Trans-Canada Highway, Chris Johnson got this excellent shot a Merlin with its Rock Pigeon prey.

17075318516_0789cdcd8d_k

Merlin with Rock Pigeon. Photo by Chris Johnson.

Taken with a Canon 6D 70-200 2.8 lens. At 200mm, f/4.5 1/400 and ISO 100.

Sunday Showcase: Hawk versus Kingfisher

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

On one of our Friends of Fish Creek birding course field trips last fall, we were treated to an amazing chase in the Weaselhead Nature Area. We were in the woods just past the bridge over the Elbow River when I heard the distinctive rattle of a Belted Kingfisher. We hurried back to the river to try to see this bird, which, given the late date (November 8) was likely attempting to overwinter in Calgary, as they sometimes do.

1

Belted Kingfisher (male) perched bedside the Elbow River, Weaselhead, November 8, 2014. Photo by Trevor Churchill

Suddenly the Kingfisher took flight, and a small hawk appeared and gave chase. We later identified it as a Sharp-shinned Hawk. In all, it tried five times to catch the Kingfisher out of the air, with a short break between attempts three and four, during which both birds rested on nearby perches. The Kingfisher actually moved to a perch closer to the Hawk, apparently to keep a better eye on its movements.

The amazing part of this chase was the the Kingfisher escaped each time the Hawk got really close by splashing down in the river! Then the Hawk would pass by, and the Kingfisher would emerge form the water, calling loudly. Of course, Kingfishers hunt in this way, diving into the water after small fish, but Sharpies are used to catching their prey in the air. The Hawk didn’t want to get its feet wet, and never managed to get its meal.

A couple of the people on our walk got a few photos of this encounter.

2

Sharp-shinned Hawk (above) and Belted Kingfisher (below). Weaselhead, November 8, 2014. Photo by Trevor Churchill

3

Kingfisher splashdown! Photo by Trevor Churchill

6

Photo by Trevor Churchill

5

Photo by Trevor Churchill

IMG_3367a

Resting for the next attack. Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3316a

Another try. Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3319a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3347a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3348a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

IMG_3351a

Photo by Tamas Szabo

4

A hungry and frustrated Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Trevor Churchill

The 12-week Spring session of the Friends of Fish Creek birding course begins on March 30, 2015. See this post for more information.

Ron Pittaway’s 2014-2015 Winter Finch Forecast

Posted by Dan Arndt

The moment many birders wait for each fall has arrived. Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists has been publishing the Winter Finch Forecast since the fall of 1999, and his record has been relatively spot on. He relies on input from citizen scientists, environmental scientists, and enthusiasts throughout Canada’s northern region to determine the abundance of the cone crop of trees in the boreal forest and across the Canadian Shield. Though the majority of his data come from Ontario, these forecasts have been pretty reliable even out west here in Alberta since I was made aware of his reports in 2011.

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

You can find the original report by clicking here, but I’ll give you the distilled version for Alberta below:

Across northern Alberta, spruce cone crops range from poor (MB-SK) to average (southern Yukon). Based on what I saw up north earlier this summer, I’d say it’s closer to poor in the areas I surveyed. Birch seed crops are poor to average, while Mountain-ash berry crops have had a bumper year here in the west.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

What does this mean? Well, we will likely not see large numbers of Pine Grosbeaks, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks or Bohemian Waxwings (no, these aren’t finches) given the abundance of food further north and west. We can look forward to seeing both Common and Hoary Redpolls, given the state of birch cones further north, and Pine Siskins have already been seen in and around Calgary already this summer. Red-breasted Nuthatches (also not finches) are also expected to make their way south this winter.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

 

Why is this important? Well, all of these winter finches are regular visitors to bird feeders, and will readily feed on nyjer seed (for finches), peanuts, and black-oil sunflower seeds (for non-finches), so if you’re a regular bird feeder, it’s quite likely you’ll find some, or if you’re really lucky, all of these birds at your feeders this coming winter!

Good birding!

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Drumming Ruffed Grouse

On April 24 Paul Turbitt of Turbo’s Track and Tour blog found a male Ruffed Grouse drumming on a log west of Turner Valley.

 

Here is a still photo of the grouse.

20140424 RG2

See Paul’s blog posts about this bird here and here.

Here is a link to his YouTube page.