Saturday, 31 December 2011

Bird-notes from Canada

I have been spending the Christmas period in Toronto, and my initial bird-related observation from this relates to Christmas cards.

There are no Robins on the cards here. That’s partly because there are no Robins, or at least not as us Brits know them. The American Robin does exist, but in Canada it’s not a winter bird and in fact is more associated with spring and summer (it’s also not closely related to our Robin, the only similarity, and the reason for its name, being its red breast).

Here in North America, the bird of choice for Christmas cards and the like is the very impressive-looking Northern Cardinal. I can see why – it (the male at least) is red, and red is of course the festive colour. I am not sure how widespread it is as a symbol of Christmas in Canada, though, as Southern Ontario would appear to be the northern extent of its range.

As for actual viewings of birds, this has been limited as many of the species I have seen in Canada when I’ve visited in the summer have headed south. There have been sightings of crows by the side of the roads, small flocks of Starlings and occasional instances of geese heading south in a V-formation. I have seen a male Northern Cardinal at a bird-feeder in suburban Toronto, along with House Sparrows (they may be in decline back home but they’re ubiquitous over here) and their American cousins the Dark-eyed Juncos. Venturing further north to ‘cottage country’ some one-and-a-half hours north of the city, the only bird I encountered was one that gets its name from its call, a very distinctive ‘chickadee-dee-dee-dee’. I heard it before I saw it. When I did get to see it, I thought it looked like a fairly dull Great Tit, but was in fact a Black-capped Chickadee, looking for food at a time when most of the cottage owners have stopped putting out food for the birds because, like the geese, they’ve headed south for the winter.

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