The Birds We Love
As photographers with a special interest in birds and wildlife we need to pay special attention to how our behavior may effect our favorite subjects. The opportunity to get that great shot can sometimes have devastating effects on our feathered friends without our even knowing it. I’ve learned a lot about birds in the past year and even more in just that last few weeks after volunteering to become an Eagle Guardian. A project where volunteers observe eagle behavior from a respectable distance and report back to an authority to keep records in our province.
My eyes were opened when I discovered that some of my own behaviors may have had some detrimental effects on birds. Even my own thinking, such as, “oh it’s just an ol’ tern or an ol' gull” . It may be just an ol’ tern or gull to me, but the tern population is declining here and I had no idea. My ignorance is no excuse.
So, with this in mind I thought it might be helpful for the POTN birding group to perhaps read the following and see if they can find ways to improve their interaction with wildlife. I would never want to discourage people from photographing birds but I would like people to examine their own experiences to see if there's room for improvement.
Colonial Nesting Birds
Birds that nest in colonies such as gulls, terns, herons and cormorants are concentrated in small areas for just a few weeks of the year when they nest and at this time are threatened by human disturbance as well as extreme weather, pollutants, toxic chemicals, and predators.
Did you know... you are disturbing a nesting colony if:
• the birds take flight. This exposes the eggs or young to extreme temperatures and predators reducing nest success
• the birds dive at you. This takes time and energy away from more important activities such as feeding and preening. Not to mention that is stresses the adults.
If you encounter these behaviors, leave the area.
Human Disturbance of Bald Eagles
Drawn by curiosity and driven by good intentions, people want to see a bald eagle nest, up close. Pedestrian traffic to the base of a nesting tree or within 100 m (300 feet) of the nest can cause nest abandonment. Repeated and frequent stresses to nesting birds of almost any kind, cause them to leave eggs and small chicks exposed to the elements and to predators and froces adults to use limited energy supplies in their own bodies to flush from the nest, circle the area and call and try to defend the nest. These energies are better used to hunt for food, feed young, incubate eggs or brood young. When adults flush from the nest they attract potential predators and mobbing by crows and ravens. Even black birds are often seen chasing eagles.
Human disturbances to eagle nests can be reduced but are difficult to eliminate. However, through public awareness it is possible to improve conditions for bald eagles and work to reduce nest abandonment, and chick and adult mortality rates.
Disturbances such as wood cutting, building construction, loud and repeated noises, vehicles use and burning should be reported to a conservation officer so they can take action to minimiz or at least delay such activities until a less threatening time.
A Year in the Life of a Bald Eagle
Jan. An established pair will return to the nesting site, go through courtship, add material to the nest and create a strong pair bond. Disturbances can send them out of the area and force them to re-build else-where.
Feb. Males gather branches and bring them to the female to ensure the nest is built just right. Soft bedding is added.
March Eggs are laid, usually 2 eggs 2 to 5 days apart. Incubation is shared between male and female, with the female doing most of the incubation. They take turns finding food and incubating for the 35 to 38 days until the chicks are hatched. If disturbance occurs now they may expose the eggs to very cold temperatures and cause mortality of the embryo.
April Chicks hatch. The adults have the strongest ties to the eggs just before hatching and just after they emerge. For the first few days the female continues to brood the young as they are very small, have no feathers, and are weak. This is when it is extremely important not to disturb them. Leaving the nest exposes the chicks to cold and often wet weather at this time of year.
May The adults brood the young on cool and cold days and nights for most of this month. If the weather is warm one adult may be seen on a branch overlooking the nest, but not in the nest. Only one parent is bringing food to the nest, while the other stands watch, broods and/or feeds the chicks.
June Chicks continue to rely on the parents to bring food but have grown very large. By the end of June they may weight as much as their parents and can feed themselves. Their flight and body feathers continue to grow until they fly. They may be seen flapping their wings to build strength for flight.
July Young eagles will take their first flight. They may soar to a nearby tree or to the ground. They do not hunt at this time but beg from the parents, following them as they fly in the area. If they cannot fly and left the nest early they are vulnerable to ground predation. This is the start of a year long period when the most mortalities take place - simply due to inexperience.
Aug to Oct. The young will leave the nest area and learn to hunt with their parents.
Nov to Jan. The family group may leave the area and head for slightly warmer climate or better hunting ground. The juveniles and adults separate during the winter months when the adults begin to return (if they left) to the nest again.
Spring is coming and the excitement of capturing that wonderful nesting behavior is tempting, but lets not go overboard and repeatedly disturb the creatures we love.
Your thoughts are welcome....