International bird researcher visits Ellis Bird Farm

Staff gearing up for annual Bluebird Festival set for July 13

INCREDIBLE JOURNEY - Dawson Shuflita

Last year 22 Purple Martins nesting at the Ellis Bird Farm, located northeast of Red Deer near Joffre, were fitted with tiny geolocators to track their migration movements by satellite.

The information from these tiny electric gizmos is revealing amazing information about where and how far these birds (smaller than a robin) travel.

Myrna Pearman, biologist and site manager at the Farm, says, “This year we were lucky to retrieve four of those 22 birds here. Now we have a record of their entire journey for three of them (a dead battery made the fourth unusable) and it’s incredible.

“Amelia, the first one, left here on the 24th of August (2012) and went all the way down to Brazil. She flew 22,300 kilometres all told, rocketing back to the Ellis Bird Farm, leaving (Brazil) on the 24th of April (2013) and she made it back here in 21 days, averaging 600 kilometres a day. Absolutely incredible.”

Information from the other returning birds is equally fascinating. Pearman said this is the first time geolocators are being used here.

Purple Martins are at the northwestern edge of their range in Central Alberta and the research will help discover why the species is declining.

“Habitat loss (is a factor) and they think climate change is a major issue. The birds are genetically programmed to migrate at a certain time, but the insect flush (which the birds depend on when breeding) depends on temperature so by the time the martins arrive there’s not as much food.”

Dr. Kevin Fraser, from York University in Toronto, heads up the purple martin studies. He was at the Farm last week putting the tiny geolocators on more purple martins. The geolocators weigh about a gram and a half, usually less than 3% of the bird’s body weight.

“We’ve already learned that the purple martins here have to make the longest migration of any birds we’ve tracked, a 22,000 kilometre annual journey,” said Dr. Fraser.

“It’s hard to imagine something this small – purple martins weigh about 45 grams – going those distances,” he said.

“We’ve also found the birds here have a really long stop in the Yucatan (in Mexico), staying there about a month, to refuel and perhaps moult. That could be a really important place to protect this population (of purple martins). Some martin populations are in serious decline and we don’t know what’s causing that.”

The Ellis Bird Farm is better known for its mountain bluebirds than its Purple Martins, but their bluebird numbers are down.

The population was decimated after a major storm in 2008 and it hasn’t recovered locally, said Pearman.

But the annual Bluebird Festival is still planned for July 13.

“It starts at 11 a.m. with chili on a bun,” said Pearman. “And the whole day will be children’s activities, site tours, the Beaverhill Bird Observatory will be here banding birds, live music from Jazz Explosion, our blue feather award and Red Deer Centennial birthday cake. But we probably won’t do tours to the bluebird boxes, because their numbers are down and we don’t want to bother them.”

She describes the Ellis Bird Farm as one of Alberta’s best kept secrets. “It’s a wonderful little gem, a great place to escape the hectic city life. Our teahouse has fabulous food, the site is beautiful and there’s lots of stuff for kids to do. It’s a wonderful place.”

Charlie Ellis put up his first bird box on his front lawn in what is now the Ellis Bird Farm in the spring of 1955. Tree swallows set up housekeeping but a pair of house sparrows took over the box, killing the female swallow and building a nest on top of her and her dead nestlings.

That outraged Ellis and he built more boxes for native birds like tree swallows and mountain bluebirds, while trying to control the destructive house sparrows.

In a few years he had 300 houses and was especially happy with the number of bluebirds.

There was one pair in 1956; by the 1970s he had found more than 70 nesting pairs and it was thought to be the highest known concentration of breeding bluebirds anywhere.

With his sister Winnie he negotiated with Union Carbide (now MEGlobal) in 1980 to sell them his land with the understanding that the birds would be protected (thus the Ellis Bird Farm was born) and they could live there for the rest of their lives.

Charlie died in 1990 and Winnie in 2004, but the Ellis Bird Farm is still going strong, taking an active role in international bird research.

acryderman@reddeerexpress.com

Just Posted

40-year Big Brother match a gift to Lacombe man

Andy Pawlyk and his Little Brother Chris Selathamby honoured at BBBS Awards Night

Lacombe Police Service rolls out holiday roadside check stops

Officers with approved screening device can request a breath test from anyone they lawfully stop

UPDATED: Calgary Police receive multiple bomb threats

Similar threats received across Canada and the United States

Town Center removed from Lacombe Southeast Area Structure Plan

Developer of Lacombe Market Square requested ammendment to the plan

Lacombe Amnesty International group writes letters for human rights

Group honours 70th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights

WATCH: CP Holiday Train rolls into Lacombe

Kelly Prescott performed for hundreds of Central Albertans

Stettler man found guilty of illegally trafficking wildlife

Hunting license suspended for three years

RCMP Major Crimes Unit South lay charges in homicide

23-year-old Chelsey Lagrelle of Sunchild First Nation charged with manslaughter

House fire leaves Bentley area family homeless

Family suffers loss, community steps up

EU leaders vow to press on with ‘no-deal’ Brexit plans

European Union leaders have offered Theresa May sympathy but no promises, as the British prime minister seeks a lifeline.

Powerful winds set to hit Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island

The agency says winds in coastal areas will strengthen up to 70 kilometres an hour before the front moves inland and gusts reach 90 kilometres an hour.

Mandatory victim surcharge cruel and unusual punishment, top court rules

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government made the charges mandatory in 2013.

Tourism minister postpones trip to China amid tensions between two countries

Tourism Minister Melanie Joly’s office says Canada and China have mutually agreed to postpone a closing ceremony next week.

Police across Canada probe bomb threats as U.S. authorities dismiss ‘hoax’

A police spokesman said the emails were the same as those received elsewhere in North America

Most Read