Dead birds, dams and wildlife week

Dead birds

You know what? It took ages to discover what to do with those dead siskins and redpolls some of you have been discovering at your feeders!

If you recall, I’ve been on the track of this dilemma for a few weeks. I’ve been writing on the subject of the salmonella gastrointestinal disease that appears to be affecting finches at feeders in our area. And as a result of my columns, several of you have telephoned me to say you are finding 4-6 dead redpolls and finches underneath your feeders or otherwise around the house. One lady reported a dead chickadee.

Of course, no-one can make a diagnosis over the telephone as to what is actually killing these birds.

However, salmonella has been reported in Ontario. And, after Ottawa bird watcher Tony Beck advised me to tell you all to be on the lookout for this disease a few weeks back, I wrote about it. And, last week I reported my interview with Dr. Doug Campbell, the pathologist at the University of Guelph, who discussed the disease with me at some length.

But the dilemma of what to do with the dead birds remained a challenge to discover.

The reason it is important to something with the dead birds is twofold:

1. Prevention of disease: picking up the carcasses with plastic gloves and double-bagging them in plastic bags removes contaminated birds from your garden area/feeding station, so that they won’t be eaten by other critters. If you don’t intend to send them for scientific autopsy, put carcasses in the garbage well out of the way of your pet dog or raccoons.

2. A scientific autopsy is important so as to discover why the birds are dying. Salmonella has not yet been confirmed in the Outaouais region nor has it been confirmed in Québec. Why? Because no-one has reported dead birds, so I am told.

This past week I’ve interviewed five individuals to track down how we members of the general public can assist scientists in determining whether salmonella is killing these birds. The question is: who do we call so that these birds can be picked up and transported to a laboratory where an autopsy can be conducted?

Benoit Levert is the Liaison Officer a the Hull office of FAPAQ (Faune et Parc Québec). On Monday March 18 he told me, “We can only deal with significant numbers of dead birds. Not just one, here and there.”

What comprises a “significant number,” I asked?

“Four to six is okay,” he said. “If readers are closer to Campbell’s Bay, they should report dead birds there. Leave a voice message on the machine if no-one is there. The message will be picked up and someone will call you back. The Campbell’s Bay number is 819-648-2108.

“If people are closer to Gatineau (Hull), they should telephone 819-246-1910.”

Please write these numbers down and, depending on where you live, call the game wardens at either of these numbers if you find over 4 dead birds at your feeder.

Mr. Levert insisted that if you want to report the deaths and have the birds picked up for a scientific autopsy, that the carcasses ought to be left where they are, i.e. that you should not touch them. Do not, he said, put them in plastic bags and put them in your freezer. Let the specialists come and pick them up and package them properly for shipment to the labs.

Again: please copy and keep these FAPAQ telephone numbers. And, if you don’t speak French at all or not very well, please do not be intimidated. I have found all the people I’ve spoken to extremely interested, extremely friendly. My French is by no means perfect, and yet in this bilingual world of ours, their English and my French manages fine. Please: if you find over 4 dead birds at your feeders, do consider informing the authorities so that a scientific analysis can be done. This is the way that we learn about the health of our native species.


Dam on Gatineau River stopped… so far

Talk about continuing human conflicts! The issue of habitat loss, the goals and economic aspirations of First Nation’s peoples (and Québec), our continual need for electricity — and our human desire for recreation and tourism recently came to head.

The habitat: Gatineau River & specifically its whitewater rapids. The goals of First Nation’s peoples: Jean-Guy Whiteduck, Chief of Maniwaki’s Kitigan Zibi Algonquin band in advocates that there is historical precedent that proves their community should be permitted to manage hydro-electric dams on the Gatineau and therefore become more self-sufficient. Tourism/recreation interests: a whitewater kayaking group plus tourism spokespeople are concerned about the economic (not to mention healthy & fun) loss to this sector of the Outaouais, if hydro dams are allowed to be built, which would forever eliminate the rapids.

CBC morning news on Tuesday March 19 announced that a meeting scheduled for Mon March 18 on the issues of dams had been cancelled. The various advocates plus all the mayors from affected municipalities were going to attend this public meeting and present their points of view.

The meeting was apparently cancelled because of environmental concerns: if the river rapids were dammed, the sturgeon and walleye would be prevented from reaching their spawning grounds.

I expect this issue is too politically sensitive to go away. I’ll keep you posted.


Upcoming Wildlife Festival

The month of April is when the National Capital Region Wildlife Festival happens. Many events are going on, including bird walks, slide shows given by Tony Beck. Go to this website for information: More on this later, but those of you with Internet access might want to take a good look, and figure out events you wish to attend.

Quyon’s Hawk Owl found dead

Last week I telephoned the Ottawa Field Naturalist Club’s bird report line to find out what recent migrants have turned up. I was devastated to learn that the hawk owl I had written about in this column was found dead. The people who discovered it dead have promised to take it for autopsy to Gatineau branch of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. As of Monday night, OFNC bird report representative Chris Lewis telephoned me to report that sadly, the hawk owl has not yet been taken there. I hope these good people do hand the bird in, because it is important that raptors are given an autopsy. This is the way that scientists can tell whether the food chain has been contaminated, whether it was simply an “old bird” that died of natural causes… or whether it was a malicious death caused by a human being. Please: if you have this bird, please follow through with your extremely good intentions!

The OFNC bird report line (if you want to make a report of a bird sighting) is 819-827-8752; if you want to listen to what birds have been spotted, call 613-860-9000. (English only)

The Outaouais Bird Club bird report number is: 819-778-0737; the general number for the club is 778-3413.(French only).


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based north of Quyon, Québec.