Friday Night with the Birds

Do all the successful birders get up before 5am and head out to find that rare bird that landed near to where they live? Even if I were an Osprey and had Rutland’s Blue 33 delivering me breakfast, I would surely be out of sorts. That is precisely why that Juvenile Green Heron that has been near Winnipeg will never grace my eyes! Still, we gave it another try. Perhaps the heron would be back at its fishing spot a few hours before sunset?

I wish you could hear my big sigh. We arrived and right before our eyes was the largest group of kayakers I have ever seen! Even so, there was a man sitting in the rocks in the middle of the river with his long lens focused on the shore on the other side. Was it the heron? After examining the shore, the trees, the water, nothing. Maybe he was hoping that the heron would fly in and he would have the ideal position for the best shot?

Or was he watching this pair of Hairy Woodpeckers? They were chasing one another around a tree. (Or are these a pair of Downy Woodpeckers?) They looked quite large compared to the little Downy that comes to our suet.

One of the most interesting events came at our third stop. This was one of the many ponds located in a residential area – the same one where the Cormorants were yesterday. We sat down and observed nothing short of ‘Canada Goose Airlines’ taking off. Let me explain.

When we arrived there were approximately 300 Canada Geese on the water or foraging around the shore.

This scene looks pretty chaotic, right?

Then in a blink a flock gets orderly. They group together and swim to the shore seemingly ignoring everything around them.

The geese then follow one another up the incline. Then very quickly they turn and face the water.

In a split second they are off! Heading South on their way to the Southern US for winter.

This was repeated until the water was almost emptied of Canada Geese.

As they get organized in the sky, the Canada Geese will get into their standard ‘V’ formation. Did you know that the leader is actually the lowest in the sky? It is. Moving from front to back, the geese get higher. The front goose is the one really flapping its wings. All of the others benefit from its wing power and the swirling air. Aerodynamic engineers have studied this method and have determined that flying in a ‘V’ formation with the front goose doing most of the work adds 71% more distance than if a goose travels alone.

But who gets to be the leader? Do they have an election? The geese actually take turns. When the front goose gets tired it drops back for some rest. Working together like this, Canada Geese can travel up to 2414 kilometres or 1500 miles in a single day! Wow.

Geese like to fly at night for various reasons. One is the turbulence. Geese do not soar like eagles, hawks, and falcons. Those raptors rely on thermals to help them. Because they do not soar, geese do not need the thermals during the daytime. In fact, those thermals can actually disturb the wind turbulence that the geese need to fly. Secondly, it is cooler flying at night especially for birds that travel by flapping. This means the geese do not overheat like they might do on a hot sunny day. Because raptors sleep during the night, it is so much safer to fly then. Raptors often attack by hitting their prey in the air. Peregrine falcons are masters at this and yes, they can take out a goose. But the falcons are diurnal hunter meaning they hunt during the day and sleep at night! The geese are safe from them when they travel at night.

One thing our beloved Canada Geese are threatened by at night are cities where the buildings have their lights on. They fly toward them and die. This is why there are ongoing campaigns to have cities ‘brown out’ during spring and fall migration. Does your city have a policy of shutting out the lights for all the birds – not just our geese? Find out. Those skyscrapers with their all glass windows are a tragedy in the making. You might want to get together with your local bird group and approach the Mayor’s office. It certainly doesn’t hurt to inform them of the issue and ask for their cooperation.

I will leave you with some shots from our second stop. Oh, the little Wood Ducks are growing and the adults in moult are getting all their feathers back. It won’t be long until they are flying South also.

Oh, isn’t he gorgeous? He has finished his moult and now has all of those amazing coloured feathers back. For several weeks this fella looked like he had mange. I felt so sorry for him.

Male Wood Duck

Some of the female Wood Ducks are so tiny. They are very shy especially around the geese.

This is an American Black Duck. I poured over my guide books to make sure. The question remains: is the bill a dull yellow or is it olive? If it is dull yellow then it is a male but if it is olive, it is a female.

American Black Ducks are fairly rare in Manitoba. They are not even mentioned in the Manitoba Birds book. We are in the centre of Canada and American Black Ducks mostly locate in eastern Canada for their spring and summer breeding grounds. This is because they like remote wooded swamps – areas that one of their biggest threats doesn’t like, the Mallard. The birds are highly protected in Canada and there are hunting restrictions to help with those protections.

Another tiny little female Wood Duck. She looked like she was lost around the Mallards and the American Black Duck. She kept looking around like she was looking for her family. Am I anthropomorphizing too much?

It has been fantastic to go exploring in my own neighbourhood this summer. What a delight to see how organized Canada Geese really are. Those organized flights were nothing short of amazing.

If you are having a problem with empty Osprey nests, the female on the eggs at Port Lincoln looks increasingly uncomfortable today. We are in the pip and hatch zone. So check it out:

Thank you so much for joining me today. Take care all. See you soon.

Thanks to Port Lincoln Osprey Project for their streaming cam where I took my screen capture.

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