The Joy of birding

The sight of Snow geese rising from their resting place to migrate south for the winter is thrilling to all who witness it.

Photo: Jeanette Rive

By Jeanette Rive

Remember the spring of 2021, that second year of COVID? We were still isolating, ordering online, meeting in bubbles, online school, masking everywhere and hearing horror stories of the ravages of the virus.

And we were walking and walking and walking, enjoying the outdoors, spaced two metres apart. All there was to remind us of some normalcy was nature – the tulips were out, spring was in the air. Our eyes turned to the outdoors whenever possible, and everything was so much quieter – we could hear bird song, the air was clearer, and time moved slowly.

I started writing the Birds of the Glebe column that spring of 2021. So many more people were out with binoculars, we were more observant of wildlife around us, and our eyes and ears were somehow more attuned to nature. Twenty-three columns and twenty-two bird species later, I have almost exhausted the list of birds we habitually see in our area of Ottawa: our backyards, our parklands around the inlets and creeks, the Canal, the Arboretum and Fletcher Wildlife Garden, my haven during those early COVID months. I spent many hours outdoors, binoculars and camera in hand, watching for birds, chatting to equally enthusiastic birders, most much more experienced than I.

Researching about the birds made me focus on bird behaviour, unique aspects of each bird, the resilience, instinct, bravery of these animals, some of them so tiny they only weigh a few grams and yet make the most astonishing flights of migration. Little details have stood out: the Mourning dove’s ability to suck up water, the Yellow warbler covering up her eggs if another bird has laid an egg amongst her own eggs, gulls’ built in desalination plant, the White-breasted nuthatch’s ability to go down a tree as well as up, the Pileated woodpecker’s huge long tongue, the dazzling feather display of the Wood duck and the super smarts of Blue jays and corvids.

It seems that every day we are reading or hearing about the health benefits of being in nature and birding. One is forced to slow down, keep still, keep quiet, listen for the rustle of leaves, notice tiny movements in bushes and trees, look up (yes, a stiff neck can be the result) and catch a glimpse of a larger bird of prey. One only needs a pair of binoculars, they don’t even have to be expensive, and a bird guide, although now, so much information is just on your phone. Ebird and the Merlin bird ID have been referenced several times in my columns. Sibley and National Geographic bird guides are excellent resources. Locally, Wild Bird Unlimited has everything one needs to both be a birder and provide sustenance to our feathered friends.

The changing climate has brought unusual visitors to our area over the last few years as weather patterns, habitats and food supplies affect the range of birds. This winter, birding enthusiasts were thrilled by the sight of a bright yellow Western Tanager that was sustained through the winter by caring volunteers making sure feeders were full and protected. Sadly, it perished in a window collision, perhaps being pursued by a predator. Dow’s Lake, areas along the Ottawa River, floodplains in the east and the Britannia Conservation area are wonderful areas to explore and perhaps catch some unusual visitors. Among a birder’s greatest thrills is to witness 10,000 Snow geese taking off en masse from one of their resting areas in the east end of Ottawa as they migrate south in the fall. May and June are peak migration leading up to nesting season, although some early nesters are already busy.

This is my final “regular” column. I hope I have created some awareness of the wonderful birds around us and that readers have learned a little, as I have, about their habits and powers of survival. Enjoy and marvel at these wonderful creatures, keep your feeders full and clean, provide some water in the summer and keep the cats indoors, especially in nesting season. Happy birding!


Jeanette Rive is a Glebe bird enthusiast and frequent Glebe Report contributor. This is her final column in this series.

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