Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory reporting lower numbers of migratory birds with habitat and weather changes

Fewer birds flying through

Casey Richardson

It’s been a slow season of migration of birds through the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory in the South Okanagan, with a significant drop in species coming through the area.

Last year's numbers dipped due to wildfire impact and heavy smoke, with this year’s numbers likely dropping down due to the cold, wet spring earlier this year and habitat changes.

Volunteers monitor nets spread throughout the area to help track bird numbers at the lake until Oct. 15, which will determine the total numbers as migrations continue. The teams use a tracking process with the birds, outfitting them with a harmless, lightweight, numbered aluminum band around one of their legs and checking things like age, weight and sex.

The entire process takes just a few minutes, and the birds fly back into the wild.

“We're finding that bird numbers are quite low from the beginning. In August, we typically get a pretty busy start to the season, as a lot of the young birds are recently fledged into their nest,” Matthias Bieber, bander-in-charge said.

“We had a busy opening day. But after that numbers really went down and it was pretty consistently low throughout August o we didn't see many peaks and valleys during that time.”

September is usually when things pick up again for the observatory team, especially mid-September through to the last two weeks for peak numbers during migration, but the team didn’t experience that either.

“The numbers didn't pick up as they had in the past or as we would typically expect them to be. So it's been very slow, all season. And we also found that it was quite late, a lot of the birds were arriving maybe a week or so later than we would typically see them kind of initially come through.”

Beiber said he thinks that in the late, very wet spring, a lot of birds likely couldn't have as many young as they would. Birds could’ve also chosen to start nesting a little bit later than usual, which impacts how many young they can produce.

“For September, I think it has actually to do with the nice weather we've been having, at least part of it. So normally, when we get rainy and cloudy weather that kind of forces the birds to come out of the sky when they're migrating, it forces them to stop. And we've had such nice clear weather, most of September, so they're probably just flying over not stopping,” he added.

While there is concern about lower counts this year, it may just be a part of the cyclical trend.

Beiber said that bird populations are continuing to decline, however, so lower numbers aren’t a surprise.

“We know from a lot of recent studies that have come out that birds have many threats that they face in their life in their lives. So one of the big ones, of course, is habitat loss. That's kind of the biggest threat for a lot of wildlife,” he said.

“Another big factor is house cats are feral cats. So they kill several 100 million birds in Canada every year. Also, window collisions are a big factor.”

People can help out locally by keeping their cats inside, putting up specialized bird tape on glass windows, keeping their bird feeders clean and creating habitat for birds by planting native species along with water features.

Bieber also encourages people to learn more about bird species to keep themselves educated.

The Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory will be hosting its open house on Oct 2 from 9 a.m. to noon to offer visitors a chance to see birds being banded, go on a guided walk and learn more about bird migration.

The Bird Migration Day focuses on three themes: bird adaptation to migration, bird conservation issues and threats, and bird banding.

“We'll have a few other people as well who are knowledgeable about birds and they'll be talking about bird adaptations. There'll be some guided bird walks as well kind of through the habitat and out along the river channel as well,” Beiber said.

For more information on the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory, click here.

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