Mild winter, early spring a boon for local bird watchers

Reports that the birds are back in town are true. Also true, thanks to a mild winter, is some never left in the first place.

Reports that the birds are back in town are true. Also true, thanks to a mild winter, is some never left in the first place.

Several observers have recently reported seeing more than a usual number of bald eagles in the Olds and Sundre areas.

The large birds, which at one point were endangered but are now classed as a “sensitive species,” are being seen in increasing numbers because they are making their annual migration north, into and through the area.

Carol Kelly, executive director of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre located north of Olds and Sundre, said Monday that while eagles migrate south in the fall, some stay if the winter is milder because they have more access to food.

That’s what happened this past winter in Central Alberta where mild and even summer-like weather has also led to an early spring. Temperatures forecast for Friday and Saturday are expected to reach highs of 18C and 19C.

It is also common to notice eagles more now as spring calving is underway, and when a calf doesn’t survive farmers will sometimes leave the carcass out in the field for wild animals. Eagles are one of the first animals to come in and feed, Kelly said.

“Some of the birds are coming back earlier. I’m standing, looking out my window and my bluebird is back. In fact the two of them are here looking at nests,” Kelly said Monday.

Judy Boyd, a long-time local bird watcher and enthusiast, said she has noted eight bald eagles nests already this spring when normally she sees three or four.

Boyd said it is hard to say why there are more — it could just be that she’s just been more successful this year with monitoring.

One bald eagle has moved onto an osprey nest, which has always been used by osprey in the past. The osprey are not back yet, she said.

The nests are marked with GPS for personal interest, but also in the event the Medicine River Wildlife Centre receives an orphaned bird. The bird can then be placed in the nest of new parents that have young ones about the same age.

Boyd said it was an unusual winter as she counted a lot of cedar waxwings during the Christmas bird count. Normally this species migrates south.

She said she also spotted white-winged crossbills and red crossbills over the winter. Usually these birds aren’t seen locally.

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