An adult male yellow-breasted chat is shown in this undatd photograph on lands protected in collaboration between the En'owkin Centre and Penticton Indian Band with support through ECCC. The rescue from near extinction for a little yellow bird hinges on the wild rose in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, a researcher says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, A. Michael Bezener/ En'owkin Centre 2020 *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Rare yellow birds need wild roses to survive in British Columbia: researcher

VANCOUVER — A little yellow bird’s rescue from the brink of extinction in British Columbia hinges on an oft-overlooked wild flower in the province’s Okanagan region, according to one Canadian government researcher.

The importance of local wild roses emerged over a nearly 20-year experiment concentrating on the yellow-breasted chat, a tiny bird whose characteristics and precarious status have preoccupied scientists for decades.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the population at one breeding site on the grounds of the Okanagan Valley’s En’owkin Centre stood at just one pair.

Today it’s grown to roughly 22 pairs, a phenomenon Environment and Climate Change Canada researcher Christine Bishop largely attributes to the rejuvenation of wild roses in the area.

Bishop said human appetite for shoreline development, combined with livestock grazing, led to the depletion of the prickly wild rose bushes she described as providing the birds’ ideal nesting conditions.

“They nest in forests along shorelines. And that’s one of the key reasons why population declined,” she said. “Everybody wants to develop or live near waterfront. … It’s definitely a habitat that’s under threat continually.”

Bishop said yellow chat populations exist beyond the borders of the En’owkin centre, but have been all but eradicated in Ontario and go largely unmonitored in the Prairies. Bishop estimated B.C.’s total yellow chat population at about 250 pairs.

Environment Canada teamed up with the En’owkin Centre — an Indigenous post-secondary institution — and the Nature Trust of B.C. to try and revitalize chat populations in the southern Okanagan Valley.

They fenced off about 70 kilometres along a stream, resulting in 455 protected hectares.

The results allowed previously trampled wild rose plants to regrow, Bishop said, linking their regeneration to the spike in local yellow chat pairs.

“This is a success story,” she said.

Bishop said the birds’ preferred habitat in B.C. is wild rose bushes along shorelines with willow and cottonwood forests.

Sometimes they nest in habitats with poison ivy as long as it is intermingled in a thicket of wild rose, she added, noting humans don’t often recognize such environments for the vital wildlife habitats they are.

“A lot of times people see these sites with a young willow, cottonwood, and a thicket of rose and other shrubs and they just don’t think of it as a forest because they don’t see it as big huge ponderosa pines and so on,” she said. “And they don’t understand that this type of thicket … is not only used by chats, but many other birds as well as wildlife as cover and food sources.”

Bishop said chats have provided no end of scientific puzzles over the years, a fact even reflected in the species name.

Chats produce about 40 distinctive sounds, including imitations of other bird calls and sounds Bishop likens to car horns, but can’t be classified as songbirds because they don’t sing.

She said their vibrant yellow hue prompted researchers to categorize them as warblers for decades, but that classification was undercut by their roughly 25-gram weight, more than twice the size of an average bird of that type.

“In 2017, they actually created its own family. And it’s the only species in that family, because it cannot be classified,” she said.

Chats also boast ultraviolet tints in their plumage, which are invisible to the human eye but can help male birds attract mates.

The males are also known to put on a distinctive display when allowed to enjoy their preferred shoreline forest habitats, she said.

“They dangle their feet and then they make this sort of honking sound,” Bishop said with a laugh.

“And they’re flapping slowly … dangling their feet and the females down below are watching this and judging his performance.”

Researchers are also concerned about the effects of climate change on the chat’s habitat.

The watercourses will change into grasslands if it gets too dry in the Okanagan, making it unsuitable for these birds, Bishop said.

They might move to higher elevations if it gets too hot in the valley but that might not be the right habitat for them, she noted.

“So even though we see it as a great success story in terms of expansion of the population so far, the next 20 years will tell us whether or not the population will be able to survive.”

Just Posted

Alberta is now below 3,000 active cases of COVID-19, as the province reported 2,639 Wednesday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer below 100 active COVID-19 cases for first time since March

69.7 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

A Comox Valley 55+ baseball team isa being organized for the 2021 season. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
18U AAA Carstar Braves start season strong

The Red Deer Carstar 18U AAA Carstar Braves started the Baseball Alberta… Continue reading

(Contributed image).
Online poetry reading to benefit Red Deer women experiencing period poverty

The Period Promise Poetry Powerhouse is a central Alberta collective of some… Continue reading

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron, right, celebrates after scoring on Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the second period in Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Montreal hangs on for 3-2 win to even series with Golden Knights at a game each

Canadiens 3 Golden Knights 2 (Series tied 1-1) LAS VEGAS — Montreal… Continue reading

New York Yankees Gary Sanchez celebrates his two-run home run during the seventh inning of the team's baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Cole, Sánchez, Chapman come through as Yanks edge Blue Jays

Yankees 3 Blue Jays 2 BUFFALO, N.Y. — Gerrit Cole pitched eight… Continue reading

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young, right, is fouled by Philadelphia 76ers' Matisse Thybulle during the second half of Game 5 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Hawks rally from 26 points down, stun 76ers in Game 5

Hawks 109 76ers 106 (Atlanta leads series 3-2) PHILADELPHIA — Trae Young… Continue reading

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

OTTAWA — Annamie Paul is firing back against the coterie of party… Continue reading

Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan leaves the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Bill to implement UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clears Senate

OTTAWA — A landmark piece of Liberal legislation aimed at harmonizing Canada’s… Continue reading

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) flips a shot on New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Sunday, June 13, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Russian goalies highlight Lightning-Islanders series

NEW YORK — Semyon Varlamov is the wily veteran, coming off a… Continue reading

Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime reacts during his ATP Tour Singles, Men, Round of 16 tennis match against Switzerland's Roger Federer in Halle, Germany, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Friso Gentsch-dpa via AP
Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime upsets Roger Federer in second round of Noventi Open

HALLE, Germany — Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime earned one of the biggest victories… Continue reading

A course official keeps out of the sun on the seventh green during a practice round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
A different US Open than imagined at Torrey Pines

The spectacular ocean vistas will fill TV screens as usual, along with… Continue reading

Most Read