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The World Outdoors: Birds need feeders less on warmer days

By Paul Nicholson,
London Free Press,
January 27 2017

In the same way householders breathe a sigh and save a bit on energy during a balmy week-long break in the middle of January, birds spend less energy and are able to find food all over. Fewer birds are at backyard feeders.

There are always some hardy American robins that overwinter across Southwestern Ontario, but with mild temperatures and lots of berries to be found, sightings of robins are more frequent.

Deep cold and iced-over rivers, lakes, and ponds often result in interesting local sightings of ducks and other waterfowl. With all of the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair open however, these birds can find food anywhere so they are less concentrated. Even still, there are nice sightings such as green-winged teal at London’s Gibbons Park.

Many waterfowl enthusiasts will also head west to the St. Clair River in January. On a recent trip along this river I saw redhead, bufflehead, goldeneye, long-tailed duck, ring-necked duck, greater scaup, canvasback, mallard, mute swan, and three merganser species.

Surprising sightings for January were common loon and double-crested cormorant. The ducks here are so reliable that nature clubs including Nature London and Lambton Wildlife plan field trips in January and early February.

Raptors are able to find food easily so a good variety of hawks and owls are being posted on regional bird alerts. Middlesex County birder Laurie Harvey found a juvenile red-shouldered hawk in the Melbourne area in the middle of the month. The bird has stayed in the area. Harvey told me the bird even has a favourite post in her yard.

It has since been seen by many birders including London birder Pete Read.

“The whole area around Melbourne south and west has been known for hawk hunting in the winter. Rough-legged and red-tailed hawks are the most common buteos and harriers have been noted. This area has held bald and golden eagles in winter.” Read ­reported.

Other interesting species that have been posted in the past week or so include Iceland gull at the London dump south of the 401, Eastern bluebird at Komoka Provincial Park west of London, and fox sparrow.

My most recent hike at Fanshawe Lake was foggy and surprisingly quiet but I did see common mergansers, brown creepers, nuthatches, a merlin, and a dazed and confused groundhog.

Nature notes

– Mhairi McFarlane, conservation manager with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, will be presenting a free illustrated presentation about the lessons about nature and conservation that we can learn from London’s distant past. Her presentation is part of the Nature in the City series that is co-sponsored by Nature London and the London Public Library. It starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the downtown library’s Wolf Performance Hall. For details visit naturelondon.com.

– Linda McDougall, London’s Ecologist, recently described to me the city’s proposed invasive species strategy. “The City is reviewing the possibility of a phragmites control program similar to the City of St. Thomas and their Phrag Free by 2020 program. Working with regional partners will enhance the effectiveness of invasive species control efforts over the long-term.” McDougall said. London already is managing phragmites in its environmentally significant areas (ESAs) and some parks. A report to city council is expected to go forward in February. The City recently was recognized by Ontario Nature with a conservation award for its work in protecting ESAs.

– Birds do not have teeth. Most baby birds have a so-called egg tooth but it is not a real tooth. It is a hard but temporary projection used by the chick to break through the egg. Some birds such as mergansers do have teeth-like serrations along the edges of their bills that allow them to secure fish and other food. Common mergansers have even been referred to as “sawbills.”

– Lenore Fahrig, a biologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, studies the effects of landscape structure on biodiversity and the effects on birds and other wildlife. Her recent research indicates that the total volume of habitat is much more significant that the spatial distribution of habitat. Fahrig’s recent research could overturn conventional thinking about habitat fragmentation.