Spring arrivals continued

It seems like every time I get out birding this month, there are a couple new species that have arrived in my area (Woodstock, NB). Just last week I found 75 different species! I’m up to 135 for the year and need just another 30 to beat my record for what I’ve found over the course of a year in New Brunswick.

Here is what I’ve been seeing around Carleton County;

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler


Brant (lifer) – it stayed around for a week. It is very common to see this species around here so it was great that I didn’t have to go to northern or southern NB to find one.


Blue-headed Vireo


Blackburnian Warbler – usually this species is up high in the trees so it was nice to see this one up close and low enough to get a photo!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female) – I’ve had the male and female in my yard for over a week now


Northern Parula – a very easy warbler to find around right now. Ovenbirds are too, but they are much harder to photograph!


Rarities for May – New Brunswick

Yellow-crowned Night Heron – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1099521693408252&set=pcb.850021688426143&type=1&relevant_count=3

Sandhill Crane – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153227527281280&set=gm.846927025402276&type=1

Orchard Oriole – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=708390112536640&set=pcb.643639829064331&type=1&theater

Blue Grosbreak – http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/forum/topics/beautiful-blue-grosbeak-may-13-2015

Yellow-throated Warbler – http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/forum/topics/yellow-throated-warbler

Glossy Ibis – http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/forum/topics/glossy-ibis-sackville-waterfowl-park


Until next time,

Nathan Staples


Posted in Bird Canada, Migration, Wood Warblers | Comments Off on Spring arrivals continued

Birding around Calgary – May 2015

TH1D2575d&b-crop-fbWell, things continue to hot up around Calgary as more and more returning birds make their way north. This time of year I like to go visiting ponds and sloughs all over Calgary and its outskirts as I never know quite what will be around.

One returning species that I particularly look forward to is the graceful American Avocet with its delicate upturned bill:TH1D2534-crop-fb

When the weather cooperates and I get a cloudless sky with minimal wind, it’s worth the effort to get up early and get shooting shortly after sunrise. Not only do you get great glass-like reflections from the water surface, but this also combines with warm, saturated colours from the golden sun which can add some interest to any shot:TH1D2341-d&b-crop-fb

In company with the avocets were a number of Yellowlegs:TH1D3064-fb TH1D2433-fb

However they were not exactly ‘best friends’ and the avocets would frequently chase away their more diminutive shorebird cousins:TH1D2035-fb

Not to be outdone, a handful of Bonaparte’s Gulls made an appearance and after giving me a couple of squawking fly-bys to let me know they knew I was there, then quickly settled on the pond surface and proceeded to feed on what looked like snails:TH1D2758d&b-crop-fb2 TH1D2142-fb

TH1D2183-fbWaterfowl are now back in great numbers and at some other ponds I came across the striking Red-necked Grebe:TH1D3119-fbTH1D3149-fb 

As well as flotilla of Redheads:TH1D3256d&b-fb

As you can tell from the shot above, I don’t always shoot at water-level as often you get some attractive water reflections simply shooting from kneeling down.

While doing all this shooting, I was serenaded by the spring chorus of a dozen Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds – a sound that epitomises spring for me:TH1D3212d&b-fb

The surrounding shrubs and trees also produced a few new birds such as the White-crowned Sparrow:TH1D3274-fb

and a resident-all-year Red-breasted Nuthatch who picking off newly emerging spiders:TH1D1386d&b-fb

Elsewhere I was very pleased to get some close-ups of Canvasbacks, which happened to be a target bird of mine this year as I’d never got any shots I was happy with until now:TH1D2499d&b-crop-fbTH1D3777-fb

as well as a Cinnamon Teal revealing its gorgeous wing plumage:TH1D4227-fb

At Prince’s Island Park at the northern edge of downtown I was also pleased to see a pair of American Wigeons going about their day, with the male being particularly vocal:TH7D8913d&b-fb TH7D8810d&b-fb

TH7D9265d&b-crop-fbThis park also hosts dozens of Canada Geese:TH1D3292-fb

and it was great to see my first goslings of the year – such photogenic yellow puffballs!:TH7D9392-fb

 Looking ahead, by the time you read this I should be on my way to Point Pelee National Park in Ontario to try & capture some warbler action. Needless to say I’m quite excited at the prospect, so with a bit of luck I’ll be able to share my results with you next month! Cheers, Tim.


Posted in Bird Canada | 3 Comments

Park Visits and Global Bird Day

With the spring migration underway, I’m avidly watching the States wind direction forecast for the upcoming week for the eastern part (Upper Midwest and Northeast Forecast) that will also affect the bird migrating trends on our end here in New Brunswick.

But that’s for next week. This past week has seen an influx of sparrows, some warblers and there have even been reports of a few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds being spotted, so I set out to visit two parks here in Moncton to see what I could find. I was rewarded handsomely with a list of 30 species for Centennial Park on Sunday the 3rd and from Irishtown Park on the 6th, I gleaned 19 species from very windy conditions. This Red-breasted Merganser skirted past me behind some shrubs and I couldn’t resist that stunning red eye.

A note about my photos: Please click on the image
to enlarge for a crisper, clearer picture.

parkday2-merg2The deciduous trees are taking their time in putting out flowers and leaves, so perhaps it’s a good thing that there aren’t many warblers showing up quite yet. I saw a Black-throated Green Warbler on the 5th near the feeder area that I have at Fairview Knoll Park, and last week I was blessed to see a flock of 15 Rusty Blackbirds. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me on either occasion.


At Centennial Park, I walked to the lake and watched a pair of Canada Geese who seemed unaffected by the drop in water level. One individual was nesting on the little island with her mate swimming nearby. It was a hot day and I admired her (if it was the female) tenacity to sit on that nest for so long.

parkday1-cgnestparkday1-cg-maleAs I sat at a picnic table I soon noticed some bird action behind me in the shade. I turned, stood still and focused. There appeared out of the shadows several species: the White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, a few Rock Pigeons, Dark-eyed Juncos, a couple of courting Blue Jays and one lone Mallard, intent on figuring out what I was doing with my camera.

parkday1-curious-drakeThree days later, I visited Irishtown Park on a very windy day and frankly, because of this I didn’t expect to see many birds. But I was hopeful the Loons had returned so I went anyway. There, too, the deciduous trees are pretty much still quite bare.

parkday2After taking the Yellow Trail through the woods I was alone for most of the way until I first heard, and then saw, a shy Hermit Thrush in the underbrush. Being late afternoon, all the photos I took in the forest came out too shadowy for my liking. But as soon as I reached the bridge that spans the reservoir, the light was just right and there it was: my first Common Loon this year. Then later two more appeared. This one was so hard to capture that I’m sure she knew that I wanted to take her photo and was being evasive on purpose. As soon as I would aim and try to hold the camera still in the high winds, she would duck underwater and disappear from view for minutes at a time.

parkday2_common_loonThen along came the Red-breasted Mergansers and I completely forgot all about the Loon! There were fifteen males and females. I managed to capture them up close and personal, then again I caught them in the mad rush to get away when I came too close, on their flight shoreward. The shrubs between us kept me camouflaged, but it was also a hindrance to a clear, open view. Nevertheless, they seemed to cooperate nicely. This next photo shows the long, curved bill.



parkday2_merganser3But the week wasn’t over after my two park visits. There was still the Global Birding Day leftover as a special treat, and this day I decided to spend at Grande-Digue near the water.  The different habitats I visited included wetlands, meadows, deciduous and coniferous woods, the shoreline from Cap de Cocagne to Caissie Cape, and different human habitations, including my sister’s feeder that she keeps amply stocked.  Seen with their attractive heads looking away are: White-throated Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch females and one male. Later a couple of Pine Siskins, a Blue Jay, and the ubiquitous Black-capped Chickadees made their late afternoon visits, as well as the Ring-necked Pheasant, a resident in these parts.

globalday2-05-09-15There, too, spring is slow in arriving with the Sugar Maple flower buds just erupting. The Red Maples are not even opened yet.

globalday1-05-09-15 On Global Day, May 9th, my sister and I saw or heard 40 different species. Most of the time, she spotted, and I recorded, the birds. Of note on the list is my first of the year Black and Surf Scoter, American Kestrel, an immature Great-crested Cormorant, Northern Pintail Duck, Ring-necked Duck, and several Yellow-rumped Warblers, and an Osprey. But no Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Yet.

Speaking of warblers, I must refresh my memory on calls, songs and the myriad array of colourful plumage our guests will sport as they migrate to our fair land.  Until next time…

Wishing you great Birding Days!
Raymonde Savoie

Posted in Bird Canada, Birding Trips, Canadian Birds, Migration, Shorebirds, Songbirds, Wood Warblers | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

They are Coming to Us

With the changing season, some of the locals are getting new wardrobes and others, who have spent the winter here, are considering moving on.


Pine Siskin – These birds are preparing to return North.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch – Our goldfinch have almost completed their molt and are singing daily.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker – Woodpeckers are active; calling and drumming.


Hairy Woodpecker


Dark-eyed Junco – Juncos have been with us all winter but rather than remaining as ground feeders, they have chosen to go directly to the source.

With the days lengthening and warmer weather, we are seeing new birds almost on a daily basis. The dawn chorus is beginning and we are hearing new song, tweets and rattling and drumming each new day. In recent weeks we have had an influx of Sparrows beginning with Fox and Song followed shortly by White-throated. Dark-eyed Juncos have been with us all winter but seem to have become more active and singing in the past few weeks.


Fox Sparrow – This is one of many, passing through the province, and delighting all with their song.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Purple Finch

Purple Finch – These birds have arrived recently and along with their colour, they are adding to the song.

Purple Finch - Female

Purple Finch – Female


Ring-billed Gull – In bright breeding plumage (but dirty feet).

Gull From Away

Strange Gull – This gull this thought to be a Ring-billed/Black-headed Gull Hybrid.

Ring-necked Duck pair

Ringed-necked Duck – Pair in breeding plumage.

But May is the month of warblers…Bring them on!


Posted in Bird Canada | 2 Comments

Something to Celebrate

On the brink of becoming an official card-carrying senior, I find myself embarrassed, more and more often, at the things we humans do. As a younger person, I was rather optimistic about the world. Now I’m not. Now I wonder, every ten minutes, what are we thinking?

What are we thinking, for example, when we decide to slaughter 10,912 Double-crested Cormorants, shooting them out of the sky with shotguns, and at close range with rifles as they tend to their nests in the Columbia River Estuary? Or when we plan to destroy 26,096 of their nests?  All this slaughter is supposed to solve the problem of declining salmon populations. But the cormorants about to be slaughtered didn’t create the salmon decline, and killing them probably won’t solve the problem.

Thankfully, the Audobon Society of Portland is trying to stop this slaughter. Along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Wildlife Center of the North Coast, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Friends of Animals, they’re seeking an injunction to stop the killing while a case now in the courts proceeds through the system. (Read more at http://audubonportland.org/news/march20-2015-cormorants and http://audubonportland.org/news/april20-2015)

Double-crested Cormorant. Photo by Jim Cruce.

Double-crested Cormorant. Photo by Jim Cruce.

Closer to home, here in BC, what are we thinking when we decide to kill Barred Owls in order to improve the survival chances of the Spotted Owl? The Spotted Owl problem is due to the fragmentation of their old-growth forest habitat by logging, not to any crimes perpetrated by Barred Owls. (http://blog.aba.org/2013/02/who-shoots-for-you-who-shoots-for-youall.html#comment-6a00e5505da1178834017d40eb2fad970c)

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

And what are we thinking when we okay the shooting of Grizzly Bears by trophy hunters in BC’s Chilcotin Cariboo? (http://www.vancouverobserver.com/news/clark-govt-under-fire-illegal-grizzly-hunt-tsilhqot)

Or as we plan to shoot wolves, by helicopter, in the South Selkirk Mountains and the South Peace in BC in order to save dwindling caribou herds? (http://globalnews.ca/news/1943910/84-wolves-killed-in-b-c-during-cull-program/)

Are the government officials making these decisions out of touch with their citizens? It would seem so. Certainly, many many BC citizens actively oppose the Barred Owl cull and the hunting of Grizzlies and the barbaric and ineffective wolf cull. Over sixty national and international organizations, in fact, signed an open letter to the Premier of BC on Feb 25 2015 in opposition to the wolf cull. (http://pacificwild.org/media/documents/press_release/save-b.c.-wolves-press-release-officiaal.pdf)


Grey wolf

Grey wolf

Farther afield, in the Mediterranean, what are we thinking when we allow the killing of millions of migratory birds a year to line the pockets of poachers and satisfy the palates of European diners? In Malta, Cyprus, northern Italy, and southern France the poaching of protected migratory birds happens on an industrial scale operation. In spite of the laws of their respective countries, hunters trap and kill Ortolan Buntings, Thrushes, Golden Plovers, Finches, Skylarks, Bramblings, Sparrows, and Lapwings for sport and to sell to restaurants that serve them as a delicacy. As if cats and windows and habitat loss weren’t enough to deal with!

Songbirds on a plate

Songbirds on a plate. CABS website photo.

I am, therefore, very grateful for the brave and persistent work of The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), a group of volunteers dedicated to stopping the illegal hunting of migratory birds in the Mediterranean. Recently they’ve been celebrated in Emptying the Skies, a documentary based on a New York Times article by Jonathon Franzen. He describes the group as an “intrepid squad of pan-European bird-lovers waging a secret war against poachers, disrupting illegal trapping to free as many as possible.”  Trailer: (http://www.musicboxfilms.com/emptying-the-skies-movies-114.php)

Bird stuck to lime stick

Bird stuck to lime stick. CABS website photo.

Among its many activities, CABS conducts training camps where “novices learn to move unobtrusively across rough terrain, detect the poachers’ carefully concealed nets and traps, and lead Forest Police patrols to ambush positions.” It’s not a job for the uncommitted – volunteers have been beaten up, shot at, had their cameras smashed.

CABS is also involved in research, in making legal challenges to ‘special regulations’ that benefit trappers and hunters, and in educating the public about the illegal bird-trapping problem. A non-partisan, politically independent organisation, it is financed exclusively through donations from the public.

The CABS volunteers who risk their lives to save the lives of birds remind me of all the good work being done on behalf of the natural world by all kinds of people. They help me feel a little less mortified at being a member of the species that slaughters innocent animals in a half-hearted attempt to solve human-created problems. They remind me that many people are not only thinking about the long-term needs of the natural world but also working hard on its behalf.

So, this year, to celebrate my 65th birthday, I am doing a slide show, Celebrating the Birds of Gabriola, as a fundraiser for CABS. It’s May 8 at 7 pm at The Commons. If you’re on the island, please come. I’ll pass a hat at the end.

A White-crowned Sparrow nesting on Gabriola

A White-crowned Sparrow nesting on Gabriola. “Please come!!”


Posted in Bird Canada | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Spring Arrivals

Spring has sprung here in New Brunswick. We were spoiled with a couple of sunny/warm days at first, but lately it hasn’t even been in the double digits and has been raining off and on. More and more birds continue to arrive each week regardless of the rain. Here is what I have been seeing so far in April;


Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl



 Palm Warbler


American Kestrel


Eastern Phoebe


Snow Goose


Northern Cardinal


Pied-billed Grebe


Wood Duck


Rarities for April

Blue Grosbeak – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153276610203055&set=a.10153275976933055.1073741963.557763054&type=1&theater

Little Blue Heron – http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/photo/a-nice-close-up-today-of-our-little-blue-heron-friend?context=latest

Glossy Ibis – http://birdingnewbrunswick.ca/photo/glossy-ibis-plegadis-falcinellus-ibis-falcinelle?context=featured




Posted in Bird Canada, Canadian Birds, Migration, Owls, Waterfowl | 1 Comment

More spring birding around Calgary

Common Merganser female

Common Merganser female

Well spring migration is really kicking into gear since my last post, and it’s been great to see swags of species coming back to southern Alberta each week. Many waterfowl species are in making their way through, from the American Wigeon, Canada Geese, mergansers and Mallards:

Mallard drake

Mallard drake

Canada Goose pursuing rivals

Canada Goose pursuing rivals

American Wigeon - female

American Wigeon – female

American Wigeons

American Wigeons

I was also quite pleased to get some shots of the striking Northen Pintail:

Northern Pintail drake

Northern Pintail drake

And the ever-majestic Tundra and Trumpeter Swans are always a pleasure to see:

Trumpeter Swan portrait

Trumpeter Swan portrait

Trumpeter in flight

Trumpeter in flight

But of course it’s not just the ducks and already another early summer resident – the Mountain Bluebird – has become abundant in the past few weeks. On a sunny day, the plumage of these passerines is just electric:

Male Mountain Bluebird

Male Mountain Bluebird

Spring also means that a number of owl species will be on the nest and raising young, which in turn means they will be out actively hunting more than usual both to feed their nesting partner and in time a number (hopefully) of hungry young mouths to feed. Indeed, since my last post I’ve seen several more Great Greys out & about on their vole hunts:TH1D7016d&b-fb-web

GGO hunting at sunrise

GGO hunting at sunrise


TH1D6987-fb TH1D7295merge-web TH1D7334mask2-fb-webA kind fellow birder (thanks Jackie!) also gave me the chance to shoot some more of our soon-to-be-departing winter finches, namely the photogenic Common Redpoll:TH1D6692d&b-mask2-fb-web TH1D6663-fb-web TH1D6608d&b-crop-fb-web TH1D6592d&b-mask2-crop-fb-web

And finally, with the snow rapidly disappearing & trails becoming walkable, I was able to re-visit a local provincial park forest and see more of the up-tick in spring activity in the form of little forest gems singing away from the cheerful Pacific Wren:

Pacific Wren in full song

Pacific Wren in full song

Pacific Wren - they seem to like to sing in spring :)

Pacific Wren – they seem to like to sing in spring :)

To the never-sit-still Golden-crowned Kinglet:

Golden-crowned Kinglet - male. What a cool hair-do!

Golden-crowned Kinglet – male. What a cool hair-do!

Golden-crowned Kinglet - female

Golden-crowned Kinglet – female

However, the biggest personal highlight for me was to finally get to see the stunning Varied Thrush – also in full spring song mode:TH1D8043-web





Posted in Bird Canada | 6 Comments

The Birder In Me

My name is Raymonde Savoie and I live in Moncton, New Brunswick. Since this blog is devoted to my favourite subject, birding in Canada, I am pleased to be posting related entries every 10th day of the month.  I am joining a long list of Canadian birders who post here from across the country every month to bring you their thoughts, discoveries and observations on the topic of birds.

I’ve been involved with birds ever since I can remember. It all began when, while watching some yellow and black birds feasting on thistles at the farm where I grew up in St. Maurice, I wondered what their name was. I imagined it to be an exotic name, for what else could this stunning bird possibly have but some name as beautiful as it was? Imagine my touch of disappointment finding out this was ‘just’ an American Goldfinch. To me, they will always hold this special attachment of being the first bird I identified from a field guide.  new-goldie

My fascination with birds grew as I got older, and keeping a list of the ones I could identify and count came as second nature. I have lists dating back to the early seventies, which I am slowly uploading on eBird. None of the other family members had this interest so I was made fun of more often than not, as I traipsed the fields and creek banks to spot anything with wings.

I’ve moved a lot in my life and everywhere I went, I made sure I listed and counted birds. Most notable of my past residences were Bancroft, Ontario, several places in Australia, and Vancouver Island. Seeing a Kookaburra for the first time was just as moving to me as my first American Goldfinch!

But in all the places I’ve lived, I’ve always had this inward calling to come back to New Brunswick and, besides my family and friends, to my beloved Maritime birds.

Now I reside in the city but I’m surrounded by parks and urban areas that birds love to frequent. I’m partial to the Irishtown Nature, and Centennial, Parks, but the Riverfront Park also holds treasures because of its location on the Petitcodiac River. I am blessed to live in an apartment building right beside the Fairview Knoll Park, off Elmwood Drive, with a view of the park’s east side. I’m living my bliss: writing my book, observing and counting birds, walking and painting.  What more could a birder want?

new-rustyRusty Blackbird, Caissie Cape, Kent County, NB, December 2012.

Posted in Bird Canada, Bird Identification | 2 Comments

Is it Spring yet?

Spring is slow to come to this little Island. At the best of times, we are surrounded by ice and the North wind from across the gulf keeps the renewed strength of the sun at bay. This year, it has been complicated by an accumulation of snow in excess of 500 cm (and more forecast to come) and snow on the ground in record amounts for this time of year.


Snow on Tryon Cross Road last Sunday.


Snow banks in Victoria-by-the-Sea.


We are still seeing some of our winter visitors but are looking forward to the arrival of some of those birds returning from the South.


Dark-eyed Junco


American Goldfinch; beginning the spring molt into breeding plumage.

Pine Siskin2

Some of those feisty Pine Siskins.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

So in search of signs of spring, last Sunday I took a drive up to the Tryon area. The Tryon River usually is a draw for any Canada Geese in the area. A couple of farmers in the area spread cull potatoes in the pasture there and that typically attracts the Geese. Last Sunday, I found a few.


A few Canada geese in Tryon. They were accompanied by many Mallards and Black Ducks.

On Friday, I followed up and the numbers of Geese had grown greatly.

Five Canadas – signs of thing to come.


Canada Geese along the Tryon River.




And more…


…And the fields were dotted with more.

IMG_2747Along the way, I was able to find more in Victoria-by-the-Sea and in DeSable.

I was also able to see a couple of Northern Flickers along the way and we have also been seeing reports of First of Year American Robins, Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and Fox Sparrows. You can see those on


Finally, a shot of another of the locals. Looking forward for more to come. Maybe some Warblers?


Posted in Bird Canada | 3 Comments

A Risky Business

I’ve been feeding the birds in my backyard ever since that morning eight years ago when I noticed several black-hooded birds hopping around the overgrown garden of our new home on Gabriola Island. They made an odd, metallic chip, chip, chip noise that forced me to sit up and pay attention. Once I started looking, of course, I saw all kinds of birds, many much more colourful than the Dark-eyed Juncos that I now refer to as ‘my gateway drug’, and many with a much more beautiful song, like this male House Finch.

House Finch couple in tree. Beauty and oh that song!

House Finch couple in tree. Beauty and oh that song!

I was quickly hooked. It was all so easy: all I had to do was put out seed and suet and fresh water in return for a never-ending supply of avian visitors that charmed and entertained me. Friends and family were flying all over the world in search of adventure; I just had to sit on my deck. A glorious win-win.

Birds can read, right?

Birds can read, right?

Back yard photo - June 2014

Deck from which I often sit and watch.

The Rufous Hummers have arrived, a sure sign of spring.

The first Rufous Hummer arrived here on March 15 this year, same as most other years, as I watched from the deck.

A bush full of juncos

A winter quiz: How many Dark-eyed Juncos do you see?

The Northern Flicker likes this natural feeder.

The Northern Flicker likes this natural feeder.


Then, one day, tragedy struck. A window strike. Fortunately, the little Pine Siskin survived – although many birds do so, in the short term, only to die later of internal injuries.

Pine Siskin resting after hitting sliding glass door

Pine Siskin resting after hitting sliding glass door

Over the years I’ve lost too many birds to the windows (one is too many!) and have experimented with various ‘solutions’, including decals and keeping drapes closed in order to reduce the  perception of a flyway. So far, the solution that has worked the best is the American Bird Conservancy Tape. http://blog.aba.org/2012/02/is-bird-tape-the-solution-for-window-kills.html) Since installing it on our garden room windows we haven’t had any bird strikes – that we know of. I just ordered some more for other windows.

Garden Room with ABC tape applied.

Garden Room with ABC tape applied.

Sometimes one of “my birds” is taken by a bird of prey. Last fall when a Cooper’s Hawk stopped by for a meal, I spent an hour trying to get the Steller’s Jays to ignore the peanuts I’d put out and get back up into the blasted trees! Fortunately, all seven jays survived to tell the tale another day – probably a tale about the woman in the back yard flailing her arms and hooting and hollering like a maniac.

What? I'm busy!

What? I’m busy!

But I can’t be there 24/7 to shoo away hungry hawks.  I’ve witnessed them munching on a junco on the back fence and seen remnants of kills in the gardens several times. The rational part of me screams, as I write this, “The hawks need to eat too!” Another part of me answers, dejectedly, “I know this.” But the reality is that by encouraging birds to congregate in one spot, a feeder, they become easy pickin’s for birds of prey.

And don’t get me started about cats!

Cat behind bars.

Cat behind bars. :)

See the sad stats on kills-by-cat here: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cats_actually_kill) Although I adore INDOOR cats and am averse to violence, I have been known to keep a long handled water gun at the ready. (It’s ridiculous, of course, does nothing but make me feel slightly less helpless, since by the time I open the door and aim the thing, the cat is already high-tailing it out of its favourite spot under a feeder.) Maybe I should deliver scrunchies to all the roaming cat-owners in the neighbourhood? http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-20/scrunchies-prevent-wildlife-death-study-finds/6337222?pfm=ms

These hazards – window strikes, being eaten by a natural predator, being murdered by a cat – can happen at any time of year. But spring, now in full swing here on Gabriola …

Daffodils in the garden - now!

Daffodils in the garden – now!

… brings a new problem: disease. Pine Siskins with salmonella and House Finches with conjunctivitis have shown up at our feeders a few times, in spite of my obsession with keeping the feeders clean. The spread of disease is the peril that upsets me the most and that most makes me consider abandoning my bird-feeding habit once and for all.

House Finch with conjunctivitis.

House Finch with conjunctivitis.


Sick Pine Siskin, probably with salmonella.

Sick Pine Siskin, probably with salmonella.


The risk of spreading disease is why I took down my big seed feeder, the one where, in the spring, many birds fight for a spot while others scratch around in the ground below.

The big seed feeder full of Songbird Buffet. Hairy waiting for the RS Northern Flicker to finish lunch.

The big seed feeder full of Songbird Buffet. Also Hairy waiting for the RS Northern Flicker to finish his lunch.

The day came where I just couldn’t bear to look at the patch of ground under the feeder. We’d covered it with a wooden contraption that we moved periodically, hoping that would help reduce the risk of disease (wishful thinking? delusion?) but whenever I looked at it (often) I just saw a patch of earth teeming with deadly bacteria. It had to go.

Now I have various small feeders placed in strategic positions all over the yard, hiding under bushes and hanging from branches and garden structures. I also toss seed by hand and provide suet for the woodpeckers, especially in winter and during breeding season, and shelled peanuts for the chickadees and nectar for the hummingbirds. And I plant native plants and flowers, more every season. Here’s a great resource in that regard: https://www.audubon.org/news/10-plants-bird-friendly-yard 

Hairy Woodpecker at suet

Hairy Woodpecker at suet

Northern Flicker with the suet block all to himself.

Northern Flicker with the suet block all to himself.

Rufous hummers

Hungry Rufous Hummers

And I still toss peanuts-in-the-shell to the jays that seem to think they own the place.

Steller's Jay resting on patio chair.

Steller’s Jay resting on patio chair.

One part of me nudges me to stop feeding the birds altogether, to just quit, cold turkey, especially in spring and summer when natural food is plentiful. So far, though, a much bigger and louder part immediately screams NO! – and begins to whimper. Apparently, it’s not quite ready for me to give up my habit. At those times, I go looking for support and corroboration from experts. Luckily, it is there to be found!  I found this invaluable information, for example, on the Cornell Lab website:

Some people prefer not to feed birds in the spring and summer when there is abundant food. However, during migration in the spring, a bird feeder might be a very welcome source of food for a bird that has already come a long way from its wintering grounds and still has a long way to go before reaching its breeding grounds. In the summer, even though there is a lot of food available for birds, their energy requirements are high because they must feed their young.”

Thank you Cornell, for enabling my habit. I owe you one. :)

Have you struggled with this dilemma? Any insights or advice to share?

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