Cold weather and spring birds

Bruce Mactavish
Published on May 31, 2014

The cold weather of 2014 will just not give up. There is a graphic that The Weather Channel uses on television to show the weather outlook for two weeks into the future.

It is a graph with one line showing the average daily temperatures for each day over the next two weeks and then another line showing the forecasted high temperatures. The forecasted temperatures have consistently been below the daily averages every two-week period this year.

We cannot win. We rarely break even. At this rate, will the leaves ever come out on the trees?

This is not the first cold spring the island of Newfoundland has experienced; in fact, it can be colder. Slowly but surely the leaves will come out and maybe some day we will be able to leave our sweaters at home.

How does this cold weather affect the birds? The insect-eating birds have to look harder for insects.

Luckily, the uniform cool spring in northeast North America slowed down songbird migration. Many of the insect-eating birds, such as the warblers, flycatchers and swallows that should be in Newfoundland have not yet arrived.

This is particularly true for the tree swallows. Tree swallows should be buzzing around every pond by now and investigating those bird boxes in your backyard. Only a few have braved the elements to be here in late May.

They are wisely conserving energy and hunting insects low over the water, waiting for seasonal temperatures before getting into the nesting cycle.

The nesting season carries on the best it can.

The hardier birds are already well into the nesting cycle.

This past weekend saw the first flurry of reports of ducks with ducklings in tow.

Normally this would have occurred a week earlier.

Aquatic insects form a large part of the diet of the ducklings, insects that will be dormant during the cool weather.

This weekend I was admiring a family of 12 just-hatched black ducks, wondering how many of those cute little ducklings would survive to be an adult.

A brood of 12 never all make it to adult size, even in a pleasant warm spring.

Predators and various mishaps take a toll on the little ducklings in the first couple of weeks of their innocent little lives.

They will have to work hard to find enough food for fuel and warmth to keep them going through the prolonged cool weather.

There are other birds with new young to feed in the nest. I watched a starling flying with half of an egg shell in its beak. It dropped the pale blue shell on the sidewalk and then casually went about probing in the grass for food as if nothing ever happened.

 Birds typically carry the shells of newly hatched eggs away from a nest site so as not to draw attention of a predator that might clue in.

There are other clues that tell us eggs have hatched.

Seeing a robin holding a worm in its bill instead of eating it is a sure sign it has young in a nest somewhere not far away.

I saw several robins carrying worms this weekend.

Coincidentally, their eggs are also blue, but a deeper blue than the starling.


Rare birds of the week

Brian Walsh of Bay de Verde noted a strange goose in an odd location on the weekend.

It was hanging out at a dump site for crab shells from the local fish plant. Not the usual habitat for a goose.

He looked it up on the Internet and came up with pink-footed goose.

Pink-footed goose is an Icelandic bird.

Most likely it ended up in Newfoundland during the northeast winds in early May which carried many Icelandic birds to us.

Two years ago, a pink-footed goose overwintered at Bowring Park in St. John’s.

David Sorensen identified a male rose-breasted grosbeak at his Mount Carmel birdfeeder. He rightly noticed that the books generally show them not going beyond Nova Scotia.

However, every spring a few overshoot the mark and end up in Newfoundland.

This was only the second rose-breasted grosbeak reported this spring on the Avalon Peninsula.

The very rare Pacific loon remains off St. Vincent’s beach among some two dozen common loons.

There must be good feeding in the bay. Some gannets were also diving here on the weekend. No whales yet.


Birdfeeder news

Feeder watchers are reporting an influx of pine siskins. Some of these appear to be the young of the year.

They sometimes nest early when food is plentiful on the fir cones, as was the case this winter.

Goldfinches are widespread and the males are turning bright yellow.

Purple finches are adding their splash of colour.

In late spring and summer, birdfeeding is up to you. The birds can find enough food in the wild during the summer but, like all of us, will not turn down a free lunch. It does no harm to feed the birds in summer.

Feeding the birds is for your entertainment.

As May comes to an end and June eases in, the weather will gradually warm up, even with the continuing trend of below seasonal temperatures.

Those last migrating birds will arrive and the very busy nesting season of June will commence, rain or shine.


Bruce Mactavish is an environmental

consultant and avid birdwatcher. He can be reached at, or by phone at 722-0088.