GREEN SCENE: This weekend is for the birds

Tree swallows typically line a nest box with grass and then add duck feathers to help hide their eggs from predators. Each spring, volunteers remove this nesting material from the previous year (which can be contaminated) and add fresh shavings. - Jolene Bonhomme photo
Tree swallows typically line a nest box with grass and then add duck feathers to help hide their eggs from predators. Each spring, volunteers remove this nesting material from the previous year (which can be contaminated) and add fresh shavings.
— image credit: Jolene Bonhomme photo

With temperatures finally rising and the welcome return of the rain, it’s beginning to feel more like spring. While the recent freezing weather was tough on the plants poking new growth above ground, they’re surprisingly resilient.

In my backyard, the chickadees are now calling their spring “fee-bee” song, which means they are searching for mates and will soon be selecting places for nesting.

For the next few weekends, volunteers with the Burke Mountain Naturalists will be cleaning and monitoring nest boxes they have installed in parks such as Minnekhada and Colony Farm regional parks. While not all birds use boxes for nesting, some of the ones that do will often use a man-made alternative.

Woodpeckers, which can easily drill through wood, prefer to create their own nesting cavity in an older decaying tree. But the so-called secondary cavity nesters — i.e., the birds that can’t drill into wood as easily as woodpeckers — rely on finding natural cavities, although these can be in short supply. Birds that use nest boxes as a substitute for a natural cavity include chickadees, nuthatches, tree swallows, violet-green swallows and even a few ducks, such as wood ducks.

Man-made nest boxes must be constructed to specific requirements with just the right size of entrance hole and nesting space depending on the species for which it is intended. Such nest boxes can be purchased from local stores that sell bird seed or, alternatively, people can make their own.

At, the Burke Mountain Naturalists have posted information on how to build nest boxes for various bird species. It can be an enjoyable activity for the whole family to watch birds use a nest box placed in a safe spot in the backyard.

This weekend, Feb. 14 to 17, is the Great Backyard Bird Count ( Sponsored by Bird Studies Canada, the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this annual event helps to gather information from volunteers all over the world on the distribution and movements of birds.

People participating in the count are asked to identify and record the species of birds they observe during at least a 15-minute period over the weekend. You can choose to do this in your own backyard or at your favourite park. Participants are asked to submit their data electronically to the bird count website, where a great deal of helpful information is also available. On this website, you can also view the results other observers have posted.

Last year, the Great Backyard Bird Count went global for the first time and achieved a record, with counts recorded from 111 countries, documenting more than 33 million birds. An amazing 4,258 species were recorded — this accounted for about one third of the world’s known species of birds.

Counting birds at this time of year can provide important information on those undertaking migrations from warmer southern areas to the north hemisphere. Once spring arrives in full swing, the long days and abundant insect life attracts millions of birds that have instinctively “learned” the northern temperate world is a reliable place to raise their young.

This early in the season, it will be mainly chickadees and other cavity-nesters that will be checking out suitable sites for egg-laying. But swallows, which spend the winter in Mexico or places further south, will soon be arriving.

One bird that nests very early in the season is the Anna’s hummingbird. Relatively new to the Tri-Cities, this bird relies on hummingbird feeders over the cold winter months for survival. Amazingly, they start to nest as early as January but because deciduous trees are not in leaf this time of year, their nests are typically hidden in conifers such as the Douglas fir.

Once salmonberries start to bloom in March, the Anna’s hummingbird will be joined by the rufous hummingbirds, which fly from Central America every spring to nest as far north as Alaska. The competition between these birds can create some interesting antics at your hummingbird feeder.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with nature and help make a difference for birds. It is an excellent example of how people can contribute valuable information and become “citizen scientists.”

Can we count you in?


Elaine Golds is a Port Moody environmentalist who is vice-president of Burke Mountain Naturalists, chair of the Colony Farm Park Association and past president of the PoMo Ecological Society.



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