Spring has Sprung: Bird Edition

Despite its late start, spring is well underway as evidenced by the snow melting, flowers growing, and Wood Frogs quacking. One of our favourite signs that spring has sprung is the return of migratory birds to Wasaga Beach Provincial Park!

The return of migratory birds from their wintering locations signals the presence of spring and increasingly warmer temperatures. Millions of birds take part in North America’s largest wildlife migration every year. Wasaga Beach provides habitat for over 230 bird species, including those found nesting within park boundaries and those passing through during migration seasons.

The American Goldfinch (left) and Red-headed Woodpecker (right) can both be found in Wasaga Beach.

The American Goldfinch (left) and Red-headed Woodpecker (right) can be found in the park.

Birds often announce their return to our backyards and forests by singing in the early morning hours. They sing for a couple of important reasons: to establish and defend territories, and attract mates. Birds choose their territories on the basis of reliable food sources, nesting sites, and protection from predators.

In May 2014, Ontario Parks may be conducting a planned prescribed burn in the Blueberry Trails section of Wasaga Beach Provincial Park. A prescribed burn is a carefully planned and deliberate application of fire to a predetermined area to allow for a controlled and safe fire to emulate a natural fire. This burn is intended to enhance and restore native Red Oak Woodland and Savannah communities within the park. In an effort to maintain a healthy ecosystem, the prescribed burn also creates attractive landscapes for birds to establish territories that satisfy their needs.

Oak Savannah. Photo credit: Jess Matthews 2009

Oak savannah. Photo credit: Jess Matthews 2009

Migratory birds like the Eastern Bluebird and American Goldfinch begin looking for territory as soon as they arrive in the spring. At the same time, non-migratory birds like the Northern Cardinal will either maintain a defended territory or establish a new one. In addition to finding suitable territory, male birds seek to attract a mate by singing or drumming, through courtship displays, or by demonstrating their nest making abilities, among many other methods.

We are happy to report that the Piping Plover – an endangered shorebird that nests on Wasaga Beach -has returned to our sandy shores once again this year, as four birds were spotted in the local area over the last week. In the Great Lakes region, Piping Plovers arrive on their breeding grounds in late April and nests are usually initiated by mid to late May. In areas where several Piping Plovers are located, the birds may become involved in aggressive territorial interactions upon their arrival, including traversing their territory in both flights and runs.

Piping Plover (Wasaga Beach 2013)

Piping Plover (Wasaga Beach 2013)

Nest Making
Nest making is an important part of the breeding process. Nests provide a safe place for eggs to hatch, and young birds to develop. Because birds create such a wide variety of nests, it is sometimes possible to identify which kind of bird built a particular nest. For example: Mourning Doves construct seemingly flimsy nests made of twigs and pine needles, while American Goldfinches weave their nests so tightly that they can hold water!

Mourning Dove nest. Photo credit: Transplanted Tatar, www.TransplantedTatar.com

Mourning Dove nest. Photo credit: Transplanted Tatar, http://www.TransplantedTatar.com

The simplest type of nest is none at all! Piping Plovers form a small, shallow depression –called a “scrape” – and lay their eggs in it. These small birds make their nests on the open part of the beach. The female usually lays four speckled sand-colour eggs that are well-camouflaged. Piping Plover eggs are vulnerable to storms, predators, and human traffic.

Piping Plover Eggs

Piping Plover Eggs

Threats to Bird Populations
Birds play an important ecological role! Bird populations are increasingly threatened by habitat loss and degradation, as invasive plant and animal species are introduced into birds’ feeding and nesting grounds. Human development and disturbance poses one of the most significant threats to bird populations. As forests and beachfronts are transformed into commercial and residential areas, birds are displaced from their habitat.

How YOU Can Help:
1. Placing a nest box, or birdhouse in your yard is an excellent way to attract birds.
2. Leave out different nesting materials that birds may use to construct a nest. Some examples include: twigs, dead leaves, yarn, animal fur, human hair, feathers, moss, mud, web silk, straw, or pebbles.
3. Growing a native plant garden in your yard or neighbourhood can help increase biodiversity and attract wildlife such as butterflies and birds.
4. Get involved!:

Piping Plover Guardian Program: Wasaga Beach Provincial Park is looking for community members to volunteer as Piping Plover Guardians. This is a unique opportunity to help monitor and protect one of North America’s most endangered bird species. Volunteers are provided with on-site training, and spend their time on the beach monitoring nest habitat, breeding pairs and hatchlings, as well as educating the public about these rare birds and the efforts underway to protect them. For more information please contact the Piping Plover Volunteer Coordinator at (705) 429-2516 or speciesatrisk@wasagabeachpark.com

Join a birding club: Learn more about birds in your local area by joining a birding club. The Wasaga Beach Birding Club has recently installed 12 Eastern Bluebird nest boxes in the area. If interested in helping to monitor the boxes or in the Wasaga Birding Club please contact Marilyn Beecroft at mjbcroft@gmail.com.

Eastern Bluebird nesting boxes

Eastern Bluebird nesting boxes in the local area

For more information on the prescribed burn, please contact Alida Lemieux, Ontario Parks at alida.lemieux@ontario.ca or (705) 429-2516.

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