Categories: Environment

Environment File

A blackbird soars in the sky.

A local lake group hopes rodeo fans will mosey down to Lois Hole park later this month to check out a big new migratory bird festival.

The Big Lake Environment Support Society is holding its second-ever International Migratory Bird Day celebration on May 27.

BLESS first celebrated this event in 2015 but only had about 20 kids show up, said group president Al Henry. They originally planned to hold this on May 13 – the official date for International Migratory Bird Day – but found that too many of its guests were committed to the Clean and Green Riverfest happening the same day.

Environment for the Americas, the group behind International Migratory Bird Day, states that this day can be celebrated year-round as birds don’t all migrate on the same day.

BLESS has teamed up with Nature Alberta to hold a big event this year as part of the latter group’s drive to promote other bird migration festivals such as the snow goose chase, Henry said. Guests at these events get stamps on a passport they can use to enter a draw for prizes.

Guests at the Big Lake event will get to take part in a variety of nature-related activities, said BLESS member Miles Constable in an email. The Beaverhill Bird Observatory will demonstrate how mist nets work, and Alberta Environment will hold guided tours of the John E. Poole wetland. City of Edmonton staffers will bring pools full of water bugs, Ducks Unlimited will have birds, and BLESS will have bird houses. There will be demonstrations of bird-banding, and an appearance by Vinnie the peregrine falcon.

Henry hoped that up to a thousand people would come out to the event, many of whom might wander over from the Rainmaker Rodeo just up the road.

“It could be as big as the children’s festival.”

The free event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the shelter/parking lot in Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. Email Henry at info@bless.ab.ca for details.

Married dark-eyed juncos may change their courting ways when they’re cheating on their wives, suggests a new report.

Ohio Wesleyan University zoology professor Dustin Reichard published a study in The Auk Ornithological Advances last week on courtship behaviours in dark-eyed juncos.

Dark-eyed juncos (those small black/grey birds that trill like telephones) are supposed to be monogamous, but aren’t – recent DNA tests have found that up to 28 per cent of any pair’s kids actually come from a different parent, Reichard said.

Infidelity is actually common in birds, with about 90 per cent of the supposedly monogamous birds actually sleeping around on the side, he explained. This makes evolutionary sense, as females would want to trade up for better mates and males would want to get as many mates as possible.

Reichard said his team wanted to find out if male juncos changed their courtship patterns if they already had a mate. To do this, they determined which juncos in a forest near Pembroke, Virginia, had and did not have mates and put a caged female out as a lure while playing “I’m ready to mate” calls on a speaker.

To their surprise, they found that already-mated juncos were more aggressive with their courtship, approaching the females more rapidly and closely compared to unmated ones. They were more likely to keep their body feathers puffed up to look big, but less likely to sing songs.

It’s tough to say why this was the case, Reichard said. The unmated birds had higher levels of stress hormones in their blood, which could mean they were more intimidated by the strange sight of a bird in a cage. They might also have been sub-par juncos.

Social context could also play a role. The unmated birds may have been looking for a long-term partner instead of a one-night stand, for example, and may have been wary of intruding on a mated bird’s territory. Likewise, mated birds might have feared their wives catching them.

Reichard said he plans to do a second experiment where he separates a paired male from its mate to confirm these behavioural changes.

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