Red Crossbills on spruce. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: Small birds and berries

By Margo Hearne

Into the chill. The Christmas Bird Counts will be happening soon so we are out and about to see what we can find.

This time last year a few Mountain Bluebirds showed up — this is often the time of year when they appear. They are lovely birds. Six flew up from the grass in front of us one year in beautiful contrast to a white swan that was feeding in the background. The combined colours were a light in the middle of winter.

Birds can be like that. Often when walking under grey skies, a flock of Red Crossbills will cross one’s field of vision and the day brightens at once. Tiny Golden-crowned Kinglets will flash their golden crowns and chickadees their bright white cheeks. Chickadees are nervy little things; they don’t hold with any larger birds cornering the feeder or the water bath, but will move right in and do their thing. They hang upside down from the very edge of a branch then swerve away to the next tree. Their preference is for alders — they like the “flowers” and buds that are often the only food in mid-winter.

Small birds, in general, like to be with other small birds. Kinglets will travel with chickadees, juncos will attract sparrows, robins and wrens are often in the same bush. And speaking of robins, there is still a large flock of around 45 feeding on a few remaining crab apples. The berries are soft and beginning to ferment. Not generally known for their sweetness, they provide sustenance for hungry birds. Cedar Waxwings, those bright birds of winter, also eat crab apples, but if they return this spring the cotoneaster berries will be ready for them. As I went to fill the wood box, I noticed that those berries had reddened up in just the last few days.

Visitors to the islands can do strange things. Last week someone emptied at least five large bags of birdseed down Cemetery Road in Masset. The seeds were quite dry so it had just happened the morning of discovery. We don’t know who did the deed, but the seeds had not been purchased on island as those particular brands are not available here.

Did someone bring them in to bait the birds? It’s possible. One year a visiting group of birders scattered bird seed on the golf course in Sandspit. The horses in the nearby field broke through new fencing to get at the seed and in so doing, made quite a mess of the golf course. The visitors were biologists and should have known better. Part of the reason for dumping the seed is to bait birds in the hope something rare will show up. We occasionally find Asian vagrants here and competitive “twitchers” have no qualms about doing whatever they have to do to get more species than anyone else. It destroys the illusion that birders are also conservationists. Their game is to see more species than anyone else without care for birds and their habitat. It’s a sad situation.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert and Port Hardy brace for heavy winds

Gusts ready to hit the communities at 120 km/h as Wednesday evening falls

Coastal GasLink stresses pipeline ‘on a schedule’ as B.C. appoints liaison for Wet’suwet’en

670-kilometre pipeline is schedule to be completed by end of 2023

Anticipated adverse weather leads to ferry rescheduling, Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii

Sailing for the Northern Expedition, Skidegate has been revised by BC Ferries

It’s a sign for Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii signs will be bi-lingual to respect language

Skidegate man arrested following Queen Charlotte RCMP investigation

Man faces possible drugs and weapons charges

VIDEO: Feds look to help 126 Canadians quarantined in China for coronavirus

China has confirmed more than 4,500 cases of the new virus, with more than 100 deaths

Sap thief taps Saanich park maple trees, faces hefty fine

One tree found with four taps in Mount Doug Park

B.C. reports first coronavirus in Vancouver region

First patient visited Wuhan, China, reported symptoms

Uber threatens legal action to ‘defend its right’ to operate in Surrey

‘I have no concerns,’ Mayor Doug McCallum replies

Victoria resident says WestJet employee uttered racist comment, refused to let her on plane

Customer claims she was told ‘You guys can’t handle your alcohol’ by WestJet employee

Bystander who tried to help dog being attacked not liable for its death: B.C. tribunal

Owner of dog killed tried to get $5,000 in damages from man who tried to save it

INFOGRAPHIC: See how fast your B.C. city grew in 2019

The province’s fastest-growing municipalities were located on Vancouver Island

Landowner hearings begin for Trans Mountain expansion in Alberta

Detailed route talks start in Spruce Grove, in B.C. communities soon

Alessia Cara to host and perform at 2020 Juno Awards

Multi-platinum Canadian singer-songwriter also up for six awards, including Artist of the Year

Most Read