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.

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