Win­ter vis­i­tors wel­come

Stanstead Journal - - NEWS BRIEFS - Vic­to­ria Vanier

Although it’s al­ways a lit­tle sad when some of our fa­vorite sum­mer birds head south in the fall, it’s also fun to see which species of birds will visit our bird­feed­ers in the win­ter. Be­sides the usual black-capped chick­adees, blue jays, red­breasted and white-breasted nuthatches, jun­cos, hairy and downy wood­peck­ers, we’ve been see­ing some of win­ter’s rarer vis­i­tors at our feeder for the past week: a band of pine gros­beaks. One of the largest of the ‘win­ter finches’, the breed­ing grounds of the pine gros­beak are conif­er­ous forests in the ex­treme north where it feeds on seeds, tree buds, berries and in­sects. When food sources are scarce, th­ese large gros­beaks, mea­sur­ing be­tween 20 and 25 cen­time­ters long, mi­grate down to our re­gion to spend the win­ter.

An­other win­ter bird that we don’t see ev­ery year but that seems to have ar­rived in large num­bers is the com­mon red­poll. Not only has my home feeder been vis­ited daily by th­ese ac­tive and chatty lit­tle birds of late, but so have some of the many feed­ers and fruit or seed-bear­ing trees in the yard of one of Que­bec’s fore­most ex­perts on birds: An­dré Dion, the au­thor of over twenty bird books who is also an ac­tive, even at 90 years of age, bird con­ser­va­tion­ist who helped bring back the East­ern blue­bird to Que­bec. “We’ve seen many com­mon red­polls in the yard. They are like the chil­dren who are not brought up prop­erly,” joked Mr. Dion, de­scrib­ing the be­hav­ior of the noisy, im­pa­tient feed­ers.

“It’s a most in­ter­est­ing time for bird-watch­ing,” Mr. Dion con­tin­ued. “We can watch chick­adees eat­ing just one foot away while we eat break­fast,” he said, point­ing out a bird­feeder that was at­tached to a win­dow. “The chick­adees know how to be­have bet­ter than the best brought up chil­dren. You never see them fight and they all wait their turn to eat. They live in groups of be­tween five and about twenty birds; we have five or six groups liv­ing in the yard. Some groups are more im­por­tant than other groups; those birds will eat first,” ex­plained Mr. Dion. “When I walk in the woods I bring a pocket full of black sun­flower seeds. They come and eat right out of my hands!” The bird ex­pert ex­plained how th­ese in­cred­i­ble lit­tle birds of­ten make their homes by find­ing niches or bur­row­ing out holes in rot­ten trees; an­other ex­am­ple of how stand­ing dead trees can be so im­por­tant to wildlife.

Arc­tic red­polls and Amer­i­can tree spar­rows are also spend­ing the win­ter in the yard of An­dré and France, his wife who is also an ac­tive bird con­ser­va­tion­ist and the co-au­thor of many of their bird books. “We have nuthatches and mourn­ing doves and, be­cause we also have birds of prey in the area, the feeder at the back of the yard is cov­ered with climb­ing bit­ter­sweet, to pro­tect the birds. Of course, we’re obliged to have blue jays. Lastly, it seems like a fam­ily of par­tridge is think­ing about mov­ing in to our yard.”

One of France and An­dré Dion’s most re­cent pub­li­ca­tions, Neige: l’oiseau dans l’hiver Que­be­cois, high­lights 23 species of win­ter birds and can be or­dered on their web­site. Two of their pop­u­lar, ear­lier books, Les Jardins d’oiseaux and Batir pour les oiseaux, have also re­cently been re-pub­lished. “We used a pho­to­graph by a six­teen year-old boy, Olivier Buteau, for the cover of Les Jardins d’oiseaux. We have to start think­ing about ‘la releve’,” he con­cluded.

Al­ready the re­cip­i­ent of sev­eral awards such as the Medal of the Que­bec Na­tional As­sem­bly, Mr. Dion will be re­ceiv­ing a Queen Elizabeth Di­a­mond Ju­bilee Medal later this month

Bird ex­perts and au­thors An­dré and France Dion pose with one of their new­est pub­li­ca­tions, Neige: l’oiseau dans

l’hiver Que­be­cois, and two other pop­u­lar bird books that they re­cently re-pub­lished.

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