COLUMN: Hotspot for migratory birds
It is easy to take birds for granted in Delta, we have so many. Throughout the year there is something to enjoy: snow geese against a blue sky, twirling clouds of sandpipers evading falcons across Boundary Bay, and songbirds singing melodiously in the suburbs. Each spring, we have the amazing sight of great blue herons balancing on their flimsy, stick nests, perched high in the maples on Tsawwassen bluff. From tiny hummingbirds to magnificent bald eagles and exotic snowy owls, Delta has a wealth of birdlife.
Many birds nest in northern latitudes, taking advantage of the summer’s long daylight hours and plentiful insects. Come fall, the birds retreat south, escaping darkness and cold temperatures, as they have done for millennia. Some head all the way to Central and South America; others make shorter trips, wintering from southern B.C. to California. A few, like northern pintails, move east-west, from prairie breeding grounds to coastal winter haunts, while snowy owls fly south irregularly, appearing every few years. In spring, the migration is reversed and quicker, as flocks of ducks, shorebirds, swallows, and other birds urgently push north to claim the best breeding spots.
Migrant birds are often very punctual, and birdwatchers can anticipate particular species in any one week. The hermit thrush that appeared suddenly in my back yard was not unexpected: he or his cousin had been there the same time last year. Colourful warblers, of several different species, time their arrival with the emergence of insects. They reveal their presence with little bursts of song, yet are difficult to see among newly-opened leaves. In June, flocks of black swifts pass through, riding the air currents of early summer depressions. The stars of migration are the shorebirds, whose long migration journeys link South America with the Arctic. Western sandpipers, for example, are only 17 cm long and weigh less than a granola bar, but are known to fly 11,000 km between their winter and summer homes!
Delta’s habitats of beach, marsh, fields, rivers, bog and woodland support over 300 bird species. These birds bring a unique quality of life to our community, linking us with distant lands and providing beautiful sights and sounds for everyone to enjoy. We have a huge responsibility to the world to ensure their survival.
Anne Murray is a local naturalist and author of A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past ~ A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, see www.natureguidesbc.com.