Friday, October 20, 2006

Warm winter meant rare bird sightings

In 2005/06, Canada experienced its warmest winter since modern record-keeping began, with average temperatures 3.9 degrees Celsius above normal. And, more Ontario birdwatchers than ever before were treated to sightings of two southern specialists, the Red-bellied Woodpecker and the Northern Cardinal last winter.

Kerrie Wilcox, national coordinator of Project FeederWatch, a North American-wide survey of birds coming to backyard feeders, noted that the percentage of feeders visited by Red-bellied Woodpeckers in Ontario reached an all-time high last winter, occurring at nearly 15 per cent of feeders. The Red-bellied Woodpecker's range has been creeping northward from its core in the mid- Atlantic and southeastern states over the last decade. This species rarely visited more than five per cent of sites just five years ago.

Northern Cardinals were reported at a whopping 72% of feeders in Ontario this past winter. While many people in southern Ontario are now accustomed to seeing cardinals at their feeders, this southern species was almost unheard of in the province 100 years ago.

Range expansions in southern species such as these could be a signal that changes in climate are making northern regions more hospitable. Likewise, it would be expected that birds located at the southern edge of their range would retract with warmer climatic conditions. One feeder species that may be showing this trend is the Gray Jay.

The percentage of feeders visited by Gray Jays has decreased to 7% since a peak of 14.1% of Ontario feeders in 1999. Climate change may be altering the Gray Jay's habitat in the southern end of its range. While other birds fly south to warm places for the winter, the Gray Jay stays put, surviving on tiny bits of food it has stored in an estimated 100,000 locations, usually under scales of bark on spruce trunks and branches. ...Read More...

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