White-fronted Geese gather in Delkatla. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

White-fronted Geese gather in Delkatla. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: More than the sum of their parts

By Margo Hearne

Out in the garden the little warblers sing. They returned a week or so ago and have already set up territory. The Orange-crowned and Townsend’s Warbler that winter over in the southern states and in South America have come a long way.

They are here because the forest is here. Townsend’s are beautifully black and yellow, and Orange-crowned have a more subtle yellow-orange plumage. Their songs are also pretty subtle. The former has a little breezy, scratchy tune. The latter have a gentle trill, barely heard above the wind in the trees. The longer I live the more I realize what an incredible feat it is for these birds to come and go as they do. Every year, almost to the day, they return home.

Bird activity has often been dismissed as merely instinct and birds haven’t been given credit for intelligence. In spite of hundreds of thousands of books, papers, theses, and stories written in an attempt to understand bird life and reduce it to a paragraph, they are still a great unknown. It takes more than instinct to do what they do. Information on the “why” of migration, the “how” of colouration, and the “what” of song is all still speculative. Who are they anyway, these scraps of feathers and hollow bones that show up every year? I don’t know. But they are more than the sum of their parts, and maybe they sing not just to define territory and attract a mate, which is rather a tall order by any measure, but because they enjoy it.

Barn and Tree Swallows are back in town. They are snappy little birds and we can help them out by not knocking down their nests. They keep the world from being overrun by biting insects and anyway, they’re lovely. Their dashing plumage and flying abilities are something to admire. Swallows, especially Barn Swallows, are on the endangered species list. It’s interesting that the nests built on federal government property are usually destroyed even though the law also applies to them. Contact the Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna at ec.ministre-minister.ec@canada.ca if you notice anyone taking out a nest.

And there go thousands of White-fronted Geese. Their high calls drop down from the ethereal skies and most of them are off to the Yukon Delta to get the next generation going. A large flock of around 4,000 landed in Delkatla recently. They fed and rested and drank from the creek. It’s a long way north and finding a place to rest does them a power of good. Once the wind changed large flocks peeled off and kept on going. Brant goose numbers are still fairly high at Maast Island and out in the marsh a flock of shorebirds feed in the green algae. Everything is on the wing.

The May long weekend is coming up. A “Bird and Muffin” walk will be held on Monday, May 21 starting at 9 a.m. Meet at the viewing tower on Tow Hill Road. Bring a bag to help clean up Delkatla! See you there.

On the Wing