At Valleyview Park pond in SE Calgary, I recently saw a single Common Goldeneye chick trailing after its mother. I took a little video of the pair. Watch the instinctive reaction of the chick when it hears the “sputter” call of a Red-winged Blackbird. It obviously hasn’t yet learned that this sound doesn’t mean danger! (Sorry about the helicopter noise.)
After the mild weather of the past few days, I hope we have finally seen the last of the snow, and I think European Starlings feel the same. The birds in this video seemed to be sheltering or seeking warmth on the stepping-stones on our lawn, which were warm enough to melt the snow. They were feeding on fallen crab apples from the previous summer.
Seeing them hunkered down in those round depressions kind of reminded me of the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence” about the four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie…
For the past two weeks I’ve had two Eurasian Collared-Doves, likely a breeding pair, coming to my yard every day. They feed on the lawn (lately, on thesnow), eating sunflower seeds that have spilled from the bird feeders.
Eurasian Collared-Doves are not yet a common backyard bird in Calgary, but that may change. They were introduced to North America in the Bahamas in the 1970’s and have rapidly spread across the continent. I think they were first reported in Alberta in 2003, and in Calgary in 2004. I know of two pairs that have nested in the SE quadrant of the city in each of the past two years: one pair in Shepard, and another in Dover.
This bird has an odd broken feather sticking out on its left side, so I know it’s the same bird returning each day.
Eurasian Collared-Doves are pale buff-grey to pinkish-grey in colour. They are about the same length as a Rock Pigeon, but slimmer and with a longer tail. On the back of their neck they have a narrow black half-ring, edged with white, from which they get their name.
This preening bird shows off its black collar…
Eurasian Collared-Doves are becoming more common in the rural areas south and east of Calgary, and are being seen regularly in the city as well. They seem to occupy an ecological niche between that of the Rock Pigeon and Mourning Dove. It remains to be seen if they will become a common backyard bird like the Rock Pigeon, or primarily a rural one like the Mourning Dove. If you see any in your yard, please let Birds Calgary know!
The non-native, much-maligned, and beautiful European Starling.
There are usually a few European Starlings roosting overnight in the spruce trees near my house during the winter. Then, starting in late January, there is a big influx of starlings as the first returning migrants arrive. For the last ten weeks, there have been hundreds around the neighbourhood every evening.
The starlings start appearing at about sunset. Most of them settle first in bare deciduous trees, and they move around in small groups from tree to tree, with very little noise. (It’s when they disperse in the morning that they show off their incredible vocal skills.) Within an hour or so, as it is getting dark, they have all moved deep into spruce trees to roost quietly for the night. You’d never know they were there.
There are already dozens of European Starlings hidden in this spruce tree. (The singing bird is a House Finch.)
Starlings arriving in their nighttime roost during Saturday’s snowstorm.
I wondered if the masses of birds that appear at dusk each day were all local birds that disperse to feed during the day and return at night, or if they were new migrants arriving. When they arrive, they don’t seem to come from any particular direction, and often seem to appear in the trees out of nowhere. I’ve seen them drop down from such a great height that they first appear as tiny dots. It seems that it is a new batch of migrating birds each night. There is nothing special about the trees near my yard, and there are starlings landing in every tree I can see for blocks around. I can’t even guess at how many there might be in the whole city. But starlings are one of our most numerous birds, and recently there was a flock of tens of thousands seen in High River.
It will be interesting to hear if other people are seeing such big flocks of starlings in the city.
As 2011 began, the Northern Saw-whet Owl was right at the top of my list of Birds I Must See. I had heard them singing in the spring before in both the Weaselhead area and in Bowness, but I had never seen one. They are very small, about eight inches (20 cm) high, and active at night. They spend the daytime roosting in tree cavities or dense conifers. So although they are quite common, they are rarely seen.
On Saturday, March 19, the Friends of Fish Creek Park Society outing was at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, where we were looking for returning gulls and waterfowl. Before starting, the leader, Gus Yaki, mentioned that a Northern Saw-whet Owl had been reported a few days previously at the sanctuary. We would look for this little bird near the end of our walk, in the row of spruce trees that run north from Walker House.
However, as we turned north by the lagoon, I noticed a pair of Black-capped Chickadees that seemed quite agitated. Two of us hung back to investigate as the rest of the group went ahead. After a couple of minutes a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches arrived, and then a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches and another pair of chickadees. All the birds were noisy, flicking their tails, and making short sweeping flights into the tree. I have seen birds behave like this before – they are trying to drive away a predator. Still, despite circling the tree a couple of times, I could see nothing. Finally, from a spot right under the tree branches, I found the owl:
Then he found me back:
These owls sit still when confronted, and this one barely moved, except for batting his eyes, as you can see in the video.