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BRUCE MACTAVISH: The birds don't know about COVID-19

The experience of hand feeding a boreal chickadee momentarily takes you back into another world. I go to bed every night hoping when I wake up this COVID-19 thing will be gone. It ain’t working. All the best to everyone. — Bruce Mactavish Photo
The experience of hand feeding a boreal chickadee momentarily takes you back into another world. I go to bed every night hoping when I wake up this COVID-19 thing will be gone. It ain’t working. All the best to everyone. — Bruce Mactavish Photo

An unfamiliar wave of fear is sweeping across Canada ahead of the spread of Covid-19. How bad will it get in Newfoundland and Labrador? And when it finally passes what will our economy look like?

Our political leaders are speaking to us live on television daily. We are given instruction and bombarded by updates. The constant flood of dark news presses heavy on us. We need relief from time to time.

Try birds.

The birds do not know about COVID-19.

They are going about their lives as if nothing was different. Watching these life forms going about their normal routine helps bring us back down to Earth.

It is late March and there is spring in the air. The first of the new spring birds are coming back. Les Sweetapple was the first to spot a spring ring-billed returning to St. John’s. It is a common summer bird that leaves the province for the winter months but returns every spring to spend the summer nesting in the province.

The first returnees are a most welcome sign. Hundreds more will follow in the coming weeks.

Another most welcome early sign of spring is the arrival of fox sparrows.

Singles were already encountered a Renews, Middle Cove, St. John’s and St-Pierre-Miquelon over last weekend. These over-eager individuals were a week ahead of schedule.

It will be early April before the first widespread wave of migrating fox sparrows can be expected across the province. With so much snow on the ground this spring the fox sparrows will be turning up at our the bird feeders soon after arrival.

Robins are a traditional sign of spring across Canada. It will be difficult to single out the first spring migrant because a number of robins spent the winter with us. The first influx of spring robins should happen in late March or early April. It all depends on the weather. The birds need half decent weather for migration. Ideally that is a warm southwest air flow.

Several hundred Canada geese have arrived at traditional spring staging sites on the southern Avalon Peninsula. Riverhead, Harricott and North Harbour have each hosted 100-200 Canada geese since mid-March.

They feed on the eel grass and other vegetation found in the muddy shallows while waiting for the inland bogs and ponds to thaw out.

Local resident birds are showing signs of spring, too.

The juncos and goldfinches are singing up a storm anytime the sun shines even though they are still dependant on our bird feeders while the snow lies deep.

Bald eagles are checking out last year’s nest sites. The pair at Cuckholds Cove has been carrying sticks to upgrade their nest.

Crows are also bringing sticks to hidden nests in the urban areas. Ravens may already be sitting on eggs at their cliff side nests.

Great horned owls can be heard hooting to each other on calm nights. The females are likely sitting on eggs by this time.

The story of the northern saw-whet owl this winter continues. The woods remain deep in snow making it difficult for these little owls to find voles and mice to eat.

As a result some of them are heading into the urban areas hunting for mice at night. During the day some have been enticed into the open to catch small birds. The secretive owls take a risk exposing themselves during the daylight.

Crows do not take kindly to any predators even if it is a lot smaller than they are. Audrey Dawe-Sheppard posted on Facebook the sad end of a crow versus a saw-whet owl encounter in her St. John’s backyard.

Dave Brown scared off a small group of crows harassing a saw-whet owl in an east end St. John’s property. The owl took refuge in a thick evergreen tree where it slept in peace for the rest of the day.

Sandra Roach discovered a saw-whet on the ground beside her house. It had a dead starling in talons. This will keep it nourished and strong for days.

Our bodies and souls require fresh air and sunshine. Getting outside in these days of restricted movement does us a world of good.

Just keep that two-metre safety zone around you. But you can get as close to birds as you like. There are a few places around St. John’s where you can feed woodland birds from your hand. The trail around Kents Pond and along the wooded side of Long Pond has tamed chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches.

You may notice them fly out to you as you walk on the trail. Bring some seed or unsalted peanuts and hold out your hand. For a few magical seconds all your senses will focused on that wild bird in your hand.

One day at a time we will get through this unprecedented moment in human history.

Bruce Mactavish is an environmental consultant and avid birdwatcher. He can be reached at wingingitone@yahoo.ca

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