Quebec honors local bird lover
How appropriate that André Dion should receive a National Assembly Medal from the hands of Orford MNA Pierre Reid in the middle of his garden in Magog. After all, with the garden being the home to over one hundred birds, he was certainly among
Mr. Dion who, with the help of his wife France, has written nineteen books about birds, helped in the return of the Eastern Bluebird to Quebec through birdhouse building campaigns and, more recently, led a project to build and install hundreds of nesting boxes for endangered ducks in Northern Quebec, richly deserves the award given to him for his contribution to Quebec Society.
“I was very honored to learn I would be receiving this award,” said Mr. Dion from his home.
But as is often the case with Mr. Dion, talk quickly went “to the birds.” I asked the ornithologist if the robins had returned early this year, having seen one myself at the end of February in St. Hermenegilde. “Often enough now, many birds pass the winter with us. This year there was a lot of fruit for the birds; the ‘pin binots’ (high bush cranberries) were extremely plentiful. And with the warming of the planet, the birds are arriving a lot earlier and spring is more advanced. I have a pair of robins in my garden that have already formed as a couple,” commented Mr. Dion. “I’ve seen a tree sparrow and the doves are already calling their mates. I heard them doing that on Friday.”
“The Canada Geese arrived early and some have already coupled. Some no longer even nest in the south but instead are nesting near the Magog River. Many ducks have also coupled.” According to Mr. Dion, almost all of the birds that spend the summer in this region have already arrived. “We used to get early springs before, but then we would get a ‘tempete des corneilles’ as they used to say. The birds that had come back too early would die of hunger. But the weather is not like that anymore,” said the nonagenarian. Only the bug-eating birds remain to arrive. “I saw a swallow in the garden yesterday, but he didn’t return today. He must have gone back to the marsh for food.”
First speaking in French with Mr. Dion, we had to switch to English to talk about birds since I was so unfamiliar with the French names. And when I did remember a French name, like the ‘rouge-gorge’, I found out that it was also called the Merle d’amerique. “English people have kept the old traditional names for all the birds. French people change the names of the birds,” explained Mr. Dion, mentioning the various French names for the flicker like the pic flamboyant and the poule des bois. “I began studying birds when I was five years old and I’m ninety now, so I’ve seen the names change often. When I was young I spent three months on Bonaventure Island with the guardian of the island to learn about gannets, razorbills and other sea birds. While I was there I learnt all the names of the birds in English and now I can still remember those names because they haven’t changed!”
Naturally, Mr. Dion had some suggestions for people wanting to attract birds to their own gardens. “A bluebird house is the best one to build. Besides being for bluebirds, it will also be used by tree swallows, chickadees and wrens.” Bushes and trees that provide either food or cover include dogwoods, chokecherry trees, crab apple trees, hawthorns, sumacs, Virginia creeper, elderberry, highbush cranbrerry and fir trees.
Although he’s ninety, Mr. Dion is showing no signs of slowing down. He recently published two books: Plumes de Ciel and Napoleon Alexandre Comeau au Smithsonian. “Napoleon Alexandre Comeau was the greatest bird writer in Canada,” he said. He’s now working on three books at once: a new version of his book about gardening for birds; a book on how to build birdhouses; and a book that will focus on white birds.
To learn more about André and France Dion, to order books or take part in their nesting box campaign, visit the Fondation France and André Dion website.