Migratory Bird Day and the Return of Spring

Kathy Morrell

Staff Writer for Yorkton This Week

Each spring, naturalists celebrate the return of the birds with International Migratory Bird Day.  This celebratory event occurred in North America last Saturday, May 13. 

This year the annual day marked the return of the birds and the importance of the boreal forest – a geographic region that extends across Canada from the Yukon to Newfoundland.  In the Parkland region, Duck Mountain Provincial Park and the adjoining forest make up sections of the boreal forest. 

Some birds accomplish amazing feats in their travels to the parkland and the forest further north. The great blue heron often nests in the boreal after spending the winter in such southerly climes as Mexico, Honduras and Cuba. Colonies of Great Blue Herons have also been found in Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. 


The American avocet is a wader found in the wetlands of the boreal and other marshy areas.  The avocet while nesting will attack a raven or other birds that prey on its eggs.  The avocet sometimes lays its eggs in the nests other birds. 




         Great Blue Heron                                      Avocet

The blue-winged teal breeds in the “potholes” of the prairie and parkland.  It arrives late in the spring from its wintering ground in Florida, the Caribbean Islands, the Gulf Coast of Texas and points south. 




Blue Winged Teal


International Migratory Bird Day has chosen to recognize the importance of the boreal because this area is critical as a breeding ground for more than 300 species of birds.  Each spring, three billion birds return to the forest from their wintering grounds in the United States and Central and South America.  Eighty per cent of the waterfowl species of North America, sixty-three per cent of the finch species, and fifty-three percent of the warbler species breed in the boreal.


Many of North America's most rapidly declining bird species rely on the boreal forest for their survival. One wetland bird species, the Horned Grebe, has declined by 60% since the late 1960's.  The long-legged Lesser Yellowlegs, another boreal species, has shown a 90% decline in the last 40 years. 


Over the years, billions of birds have made their way over large tracts of agricultural land from the south to the prairie, parkland and boreal forest of South East Saskatchewan.  The trend to larger agricultural units has eliminated the small farms, the woodlots and the wetlands, convenient rest stops for the birds in their long flight.  As a result, the migratory route north is becoming more difficult.


In addition, oil, gas, logging, and hydroelectric developments are pushing into the boreal and, although Canada’s northern forest areas remain largely intact, the next five to ten years will determine the viability of this forest as breeding grounds for the birds.


Article by Kathy Morrell, Staff Writer , Yorkton This Week. Photos by Rob Wilson.

Reprinted from Yorkton This Week  - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

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