Through October I had quite early sightings of my winter birds returning to the area. Nights were hitting near zero already and the days were cool. It all made sense to me that our lack of summer and now a seemingly short-lived autumn, with the actions of my feathered friends, ment winter was coming early.
November hit and we started hitting some double digit days again. November 8th saw a high of +17c. Almost 3 weeks of zero precipitation. My winter arrivers became scarce. I've not seen the White Breasted Nuthatch more than once in the last two weeks. I hear Dark Eyed Juncos in the cedars but seldom see them. But this is not about these birds. This is about the few Red Winged Blackbirds that still remain here...
If it were one RWBB still hanging in here, I would think he/she was an older adult and not able to make the trip this year. Perhaps sick and knows it's best to live out his days near a reliable food source?
These birds are not unfamiliar with cold nights and snow. They often begin returning to the area in early March. They are MY first signs of the arrival of spring. As you can see below, the ice and snow doesn't bother them.
An adult male RWBB enjoying some seed at one of our many feeders pictured below...
Much of the last week, I have seen 3 or 4 flying in and out of the feeders. What gives? Juveniles that don't know any better? A rebellious small group who are challenging Mother Nature, defying their natural instinct to fly south, and possibly making some big changes in the coming years and what RWBBs normally do?
I've noticed similar patterns with American Robins in the last few years, discovering small numbers (flocks) deep within the woods nearby. They amaze me to no end as they are fruit and insect eaters; so what are they living on through the winter months? A definite sign of the changes to our world and the climate.
I wonder if anyone else has noticed such things?
The shot below was taken on February 2, 2009 at James Gardens in Etobicoke.
November 4, 2009
First off, I did not take these two photos. I had to borrow them from Google images. I was outside BBQ'ing and did not have the camera with me. I felt no need as the sun had almost set. The image above is what I saw late yesterday afternoon; it is a Turkey Vulture. I am not kidding when I say this bird was flying this low over the grounds.
I am used to seeing Turkey Vultures out in the country, soaring gracefully over forests and fields. I am not used to seeing them soaring over backyards in a city; especially one as big as Toronto. Sure I am not right downtown with the big skyscrapers but less than 20 minutes north/west and many high-rises and condos in the vicinity is still what I think not be country/rural enough for these guys.
Have I just not noticed them before? I don't think so. Two summers ago was my first sightings of them in the area. Three of them circling an area for about 4 days. I made jokes about them waiting for a stab victim to bleed out in the park near here. Deep down I had wondered if they were aware of maybe a dying deer in the woodlands along the Humber River? Last year I only recall one similar sighting. This year there have been more than a few. This latest one being the closest. About three weeks ago was the largest as I was in awe of watching countless numbers of them flying over head, moving in the same direction. I questioned them being Turkey Vultures. I had never seen so many. A visit to our local wild bird store showed reports from many others who had witnessed the same thing and counts were nearing 150 birds total.
I know very little about these birds but I plan to research them more over the winter. The only thing I do know is that they are scavengers, eating dead flesh, referred to as "carrion".
A quick visit to allaboutbirds.org tells me this that I'd like to share...
The Turkey Vulture uses its sense of smell to locate carrion. The part of its brain responsible for processing smells is particularly large, compared to other birds. Its heightened ability to detect odors allows it to find dead animals below a forest canopy.
The Turkey Vulture maintains stability and lift at low altitudes by holding its wings up in a slight dihedral (V-shape) and teetering from side to side while flying. It flies low to the ground to pick up the scent of dead animals.
Like its stork relatives, the Turkey Vulture often defecates on its own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces to cool itself down.
No nest structure. Puts eggs directly on ground in caves, crevices, mammal burrows, hollow logs, under fallen trees, or in abandoned buildings.
Prefers rangeland and areas of mixed farmland and forest.
Roosts in large trees or on large urban buildings.
Wide variety of carrion, from small mammals to dead cows. Also some insects, other invertebrates, and some fruit.
So, some interesting tid-bits for sure; but still no answers for me on why they are here now or am I mistaken and they have always been here?
Maps show we are in the northern most areas for them in spring/summer breeding. Another thing I just found out... they are migratory. I thought this might be the case with the sightings, that they are passing through, but I have seen them through the summer months.
I only hope my increased sightings of these birds is not because of suburban growth, tearing up more and more land for development and housing of humans.
Are they learning to adapt with the masses of people? If so, people need to be educated, as I am betting many will misunderstand the role a Turkey Vulture plays and fear such a large un-attractive bird would definitely feed on their pets and not a creature that plays an important role in cleaning up the forests and fields of deceased animals.