Archives > November 2016

Chickadee and Nuthatch Stay for the Winter

Most birds migrate south during the winter when the weather gets too cold. However, there are some species that will remain in Calgary all year long. Two of these species that are commonly seen in Calgary are the black-capped chickadee and the red-breasted nuthatch.

How are these birds able to withstand the cold winters? Food gathering and roosting strategies help sustain these birds. In combination with proper winter roosts and a healthy supply of food caches, both of these birds are able to stay year round in Calgary.

Black-capped chickadees live in deciduous treed areas or mixed wood forests, where they create a roosting hole in rotten wood, which provides protection and insulation against sub-zero temperatures. Most of the time, the roosting holes are for one chickadee only.

They eat seeds, berries, plant material, and insects. They have a good memory which comes in handy as they store food in thousands of hiding places and rely on those stores throughout the winter!

Red-breasted nuthatches live in coniferous treed areas but often use aspen trees (when available) for their nesting cavities. The male will create several nesting cavities, often in dead trees, dead parts of a live tree, or trees with broken tops, and the female will choose the nest she prefers. Both birds will roost here throughout the winter season.

The diet of the red-breasted nuthatch is not as diverse as the black-capped chickadee in the winter, and relies mostly on conifer seeds. Similar to the chickadee, the nuthatch will also store food and come back to it throughout the winter season. In the non-winter seasons, the nuthatch will eat insects as well as conifer seeds.

Interesting facts:

  • Both of these birds can be seen in parks throughout Calgary. A great place to view these birds is the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.
  • The red-breasted nuthatch and the black-capped chickadee have very different calls. The black-capped chickadee call is whistely and sounds like he is saying “hey, sweetie” and the red-breasted nuthatch has a more nasily call the sounds like she is saying “yank-yank”. If you’re interested, you can listen to the chickadee here (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-capped_Chickadee/sounds) and the nuthatch here (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-breasted_Nuthatch/sounds).
  • The Boreal chickadee has a similar call to the black-capped chickadee, but sounds like he has a cold. Listen to his call here (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Boreal_Chickadee/sounds).
  • Other birds that associate with chickadee flocks, such as the red-breasted nuthatch, respond to chickadee alarm calls.
  • The physiology of the black-capped chickadee and the red-breast nuthatch feet differ, allowing these species to grasp onto trees differently. The chickadee has feet that have evolved for perching, and allows them to eat plant foliage easily. Whereas, the nuthatch has feet that have evolved for climbing, which allows them to walk on the side of a tree trunk while foraging bark for insects in the warmer seasons.
  • Red-breasted nuthatches are fairly aggressive for their size, and will often compete with bigger birds for food.
  • Both of these birds will feed off of bird feeders in yards all year round.

Sources:

Cornel University. 2015. Black-capped chickadee. Available on line: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-capped_Chickadee/lifehistory

Cornel University. 2015. Red-breasted nuthatch. Available on line: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-breasted_Nuthatch/lifehistory

Bird foot diagram: http://www.sciencebuddies.org/Files/3491/5/Zoo_img037.jpg

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer

Season of Giving

It’s almost that time of year again to gather with family and friends to celebrate the holiday season.  The season brings with it different things for different people. But it often includes giving.  This ritual can take place in a variety of ways… sharing  in a gift exchange with those who are special to us, time spent volunteering at a local animal shelter, feeding those who are less fortunate a holiday dinner at a local soup kitchen, or donating to one’s favorite charity. 

Why not make wildlife part of that giving and sharing?

There are several ways to help Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation’s injured and orphaned wildlife this season:

Share in the love of reading with the children in your life. Purchase your copy of AIWC’s first children’s book – “Scared Skunk”. This book is the perfect fit for children in grades K to 4, however, anyone at any age can learn from its true story and interesting skunk facts.

scaredskunk_cover

Celebrate the holiday season by sending an AIWC Christmas card to the loved ones in your life. Each set contains envelopes, and 2 copies of 5 different card designs featuring AIWC patients and native Alberta wildlife.

Start the New Year with our beautiful 2017 calendar. This colour, 12-month calendar features wildlife admitted to AIWC within the last year and information about the species featured for each month. This is a must-have gift for the wildlife lovers in your life.

Front cover of large calendar.

Front cover of large calendar.

All proceeds from the sale of the books, cards and calendars go towards supporting the care of AIWC’s injured and orphaned wildlife. For more information on how to purchase these lovely items, go to our website and click on “support us”.

Thank you and happy holidays from all of us at AIWC!

Snow Tracks

 

Winter is a slower season for AIWC as many birds travel south and young animals are no longer as dependent on their mothers for survival. That makes this season a great opportunity to learn more about wildlife by observing animal tracks in the snow!

Following tracks can help you learn more about the habits of different species and determine whether the animal is domestic or wild. Domestic cats and dogs can often be distinguished by the meandering patterns of their tracks while wildlife will tend to pick more direct paths. Dogs will often zigzag to explore every interesting scent leaving 4 distinct paw prints in the process while coyotes and wolves will tend to “single-track” meaning their rear paw will land in the same space their front paw leaves. Single-tracking allows wild canines to move more quickly and efficiently while expending less energy. This can be very important between meals especially in the colder winter months.

The size and depth of the track can also give clues about which animal left the print. Ruminants like deer, elk, and moose all create similarly shaped prints with deer being the smallest and moose being the largest. Moose tracks will often include the dew claws as a possible hint.

Tracks can also help determine which direction an animal is moving, but this can sometimes be deceptive. For example, hares lead with their back feet so the larger print will be in the front and indicate the direction of travel despite the tracks appearing to travel in the opposite direction.

A variety of workshops and guided tours are available throughout Alberta in the winter months to help you learn more about identifying animal tracks in the snow. Check with local parks and conservation areas for upcoming courses and enhance your track identification skills!

Holy Crow!

They might be perched on trees, electricity wires, housetops or maybe filling the sky in swarms of “murders.” Crows seem to be everywhere! But how much do you really know about these sleek, smart birds?

Crows have slick black feathers, fan-shaped tails and small bills – or small at least compared to the Common Raven, a bird similar in appearance.

Commonly known as the “American Crow,” this species can be found all across North America.

Crows are highly adaptable and can survive in a variety of environments. Habitats include urban areas, agricultural fields and shrub-lands. Crows are common near forest edges but can also be found in grassland and parkland habitats.

Males like to perch and display on streetlights – spreading their wings and tail feathers, puffing up their bodies and bowing and uttering rattling calls to attract females.

Crows like to line their nests with fur and soft material, constructing the outer shell with large sticks and branches. Female crows usually lay 4-6 eggs and incubate them for up to 18 days.

Crows tend to stick around for most of the year, but some choose to fly south near the end of November. After mating in the fall, thousands of American crows group together in flocks (called “murders”). The University of Calgary is a great place to spot flocks of them on electricity lines and rooftops.

Crows are opportunistic eaters! They feed on bugs, other bird’s eggs and nestlings, berries, seeds and human garbage. Studies suggest that crows have the ability to recognise patterns for eg. they learn what days the garbage truck rolls in so they can cash in on the all the garbage if it isn’t in properly sealed garbage bins.

One of the most interesting facts about crows is their ability to recognise human faces! According to the National Wildlife Foundation, studies have proven crows to be persistently hostile towards certain people, even if they haven’t seen them in years.

Crows are pretty smart cookies. Some scientists believe that they are strong communicators and have the ability to share information, strategize and execute plans!

Next time you see an ebony-feathered crow, know that you are looking at a clever, resourceful bird!

By Nina Grossman, AIWC volunteer