A flock of Dunlin sweep along the tide line. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: Birds, like people, take it easy when they can

By Margo Hearne

I’m having a hard time getting with the program. The changeable weather, dark days, lingering flu virus and mostly rain makes one cabin-feverish. But things are looking up. The days are getting longer and right now there’s a hint of blue sky. A raven called us awake early and the eagles in the trees are getting restless. Along the channel the little ducks are lined up waiting for the changing tide. There is always life in the wild world.

A group of interested and cheery students visited the Nature Centre this week. They enjoyed the wildlife sanctuary right outside the window and the snag on the horizon had particular appeal. We could see a young eagle “hunting” there from the topmost branch. It sat throughout the visit and was still there when we left. The eagle had lots to see from its viewpoint in the sky. The full moon-tide was really high, which made the meadow grasses float. This made for easy pickings as the waterfowl fed on shoots and roots. The eagle was possibly waiting for a peregrine to take a duck so it, in turn, could take advantage of the peregrines accurate acumen and take what didn’t belong to it.

It’s the way of the world. We are inclined to let someone else do the hard work so we can have an easy life. And it’s not easy out there.

A relentless rain fell as we monitored the winter shorebird population on the beach recently. There were almost 1,000 Dunlin sweeping along the tide line in their dramatic otherworldly formation. The flock swayed and shifted, now a round ball, now a long trailing cloud, now a tight formation as it landed only to rise again, always soft-edged, never square or rectangular, never boxed in. As mentioned in previous columns, a raptor is less likely to attack what looks like one large thing rather than many small things flying together. It’s only when one bird falls out of formation that it’s attacked. Raptors are good at knowing what to take and eagles, like ravens, are very fine foragers. They keep the world clean.

There are more and more Pine Siskins at the feeder these days. Last week there was one, then there was two, now there are 20 or more. The wild-food crop is thinning down so feeders help in a pinch. Most birds would rather have the wild crop. It’s more nutrient-rich, but they too like an easy life and if the food is there why not take advantage.

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