The changing world of birds in the Ottawa Gatineau District – a 50-year perspective

by Richard Singhroy

Richard Singhroy is a student at the University of Ottawa. As part of the university’s Community Service Learning program, he has volunteered to report on several OFNC outings and meetings.

On Tuesday November 10, the monthly OFNC meeting started with a few announcements from Mark Brenchey. After drawing our attention to the sale of lens wipes by the Education and Publicity Committee, Mark went on to talk about the Youth Summit, now in its eight year, and the OFNC’s role in sponsoring young people to attend this event. This year, Sophie Roy was chosen, and she was at the meeting to give us a presentation on her experience.

Sophie-Roy

Sophie Roy at the 2015 Youth Summit. She says, “We were doing something called blanket toss. Like First Nations did. You lie in the middle of the blanket, then get thrown into the air by people who pull on the blanket all at once. I believe the blanket toss was originally used to see across icy flat landscapes, but now it’s an event in the northern games.”

Sophie, who is a birder, spoke about how on the first day of the camp she got a chance to interact with threatened species such as the Hognose Snake. There were also a variety of outings including hiking, canoeing, and camping. They even got a chance to look at the stars at night with a telescope. The summit was held near Lake Couchiching, and it sounded like Sophie had a lot of fun.

Mark also talked about coming events and how the Events Committee needs new members.

The main presentation of the evening was given by Bruce Di Labio. Bruce is a well known among birders of the Ottawa region as a journalist, speakers, but most of all as an avid birder. He told us about how he started birding at an early age, when he and his friends would go out on their bikes to take photos of birds.

Bruce-Dilabio

Long-time OFNC member, Bruce Di Labio

Bruce explained how Ottawa is in the path of a major migratory route because of its location south of Hudson and James Bays. According to Bruce, you can find around 361 species in the 50-km radius circle around Ottawa, 406 in eastern Ontario, 493 in all of Ontario, and 672 in Canada. Almost half of the birds in Canada can be found close to Ottawa!

Bruce talked about the history of birding in Ottawa from 1881 to 1969. Some recent additions to the Ottawa bird population are the Razorbill, Cave Swallow, and Violet Green Swallow. We also looked at species that have been threatened by habitat loss, such as the Henslow’s Sparrow, Bobolink, and Meadowlark. There were also many introduced species, such as the Grasshopper Sparrow and Eastern Towhee.

Chimney Swift in nest built inside a tall chimney. Photo by Bruce Di Labio

Chimney Swift in nest built inside a tall chimney. Photo by Bruce Di Labio

Unfortunately the Great Horned Owl has dropped in numbers. There were quite a few declines in bird species in the last five decades. For example, because of the change in style of chimneys, the Chimney Swift has seen a loss in nesting areas and, therefore, a drop in population. The Whip-poor-will is another species that has seen a recent decline.

Bird feeding has caused an increase in some populations, such as the Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren. Bird feeding can give birds a foothold in an area. For example, if a bird is migrating in search of seeds, then it might not need to go south if there is enough bird feeding in the Ottawa area. One thing I found surprising was the Wild Turkey is an invasive species.

Bruce talked about records since 1954, where the Barrow’s Goldeneye has seen a rise. Although still rare, the Arctic Tern remains a regular migrant. Red Knots have seen a rise from the 70s to the 80s, but their population has been falling since. Hunting caused the Great Egret population to fall, but since 1972 it has been recovering. Finally, Bruce talked about the effects of DDT and how bird populations have risen since it was banned. The best example of one of these species is the Bald Eagle.

All in all, the presentation was informative and interesting.

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