Of birds ... and some potential “beasts”

The balmy weather conditions of early March have encouraged many migrants to return. In her March 4 Ottawa Citizen bird column , Elizabeth Le Geyt published reports of bluebirds being sighted, so birders, let’s all watch for them here.

In the Pontiac, reports are flying in. Maureen Tessier and Richard Ledbetter saw robins and starlings the week of March 1. Laura Prior reports seeing a redwing blackbird on March 1, and on the 3 March there were over 30 at our feeder. Joan Foran phoned, too, to say that she’s had 16 mourning doves at her feeder this winter. As well, a pileated woodpecker has been a regular visitor, particularly enjoying the beef fat she puts out.

Joan’s report is of particular interest to me because she is a close neighbour, as is Laura, who always has a fine array of birds at her feeding stations. What’s intriguing is the type of birds that neighbours regularly see, in contrast to my visitors.

For instance, both Laura and Joan get pileated woodpeckers, whereas in the almost eleven years we’ve been here, we never have had them at the feeder (though they peck away at the poplars west of our home come summertime). And the mourning doves are similar: although we do get them occasionally at the feeder, they are not regulars, and not usually in such numbers as Joan is currently getting.

I’m convinced it is primarily because of habitat. Both of my neighbour’s homes are nestled against the woods, whereas our site is more exposed. Trees offer protection for species like the doves, which gravitate to sheltered stations.

As well, the type of food and feeding stations are contributing factors.

We almost exclusively use niger and black sunflower seed and avoid mixed seed that has mustard and corn. I don’t use these because over the years I have found that it draws the bossy blackbird family during the spring migration.

Joan and I also discussed plastic netting for suet.

Years ago, I was horrified to see a bird’s leg dangling from such plastic netting. Possibly a predator such as a sharp-shinned hawk attacked the bird as it struggled, entangled in the plastic. I’ve never used this netting since. Instead, I recommend using a plastic-coated wire cage and insert the beef fat, your home-made recipe of suet-and-nuts, or one of the pre-made “suet cakes” readily available on the market. (M&R feeds in Quyon sells these.)

Other bird reports are flocking in.

Linda, Gardell, and Wayne Hobbs found a Screech owl watching them as they worked in the cow barn a few weeks ago, and have frequently noticed it watching them as they go about their chores. Linda tells me that the owl sits on a little door in the barn. When it swings open and shut, the owl continues to sit there, completely unconcerned, swinging back and forth on its perch.

“It just sat there watching us. It must be used to us, because it didn’t move, even when we went right up to it,” Linda reported.

I turned to Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies for information about this species.

The Screech owl is a so-called “eared owls” having tufts of feathers erroneously called “ears” sticking up on either side of its head. There are two colour phases: a reddish-brown (rufous) as well as a gray phase. The owl is small, being 7-10 inches (18=25 cm) in length. The guide tells me that “No other eared owl is bright red-brown. Young birds may lack conspicuous ears.” Its call is “A mournful whinny, or wail; tremulous, descending in pitch.” Its habitat is “Woodlands, farm groves, shade trees.”

Laura and Blair Prior discovered another Screech owl, unfortunately dead beside the hay barn. They think it probably died of exposure during that cold snap we had in February.

Other birds: Eric and I spotted a northern harrier on Sunday March 5, gliding over the open fields near Stark’s Corners. What birds have you seen?


Of beasts: The Ottawa Citizen ran a story on cloning on March 5. Reporter Nicholas Hellen wrote about scientists who want to open a “prehistoric zoo” in North America. How? They want to use genetic material from frozen remains of woolly mammoths and the steppe lion, among others, found in Siberian permafrost.

Larry Agenbroad, professor of geology at North Arizona University, commented, “There is no significant difference between restoring prehistoric animals and restoring modern creatures such as grizzly bear and bison.”

Move over, Dolly-the-cloned-sheep, here come the mammoths!

A rather sobering thought, don’t you think? Especially when so many of our current species are endangered. Especially when many people are worried about such things as cross-pollination of genetically modified plants.


Freelance writer Katharine Fletcher enjoys the current species of birds visiting her feeders north of Quyon. Contact her at fletcher.katharine@gmail.com