‘Where are the birds?’: Mild weather causing chaos in the animal kingdom

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Since the first day of winter, the average high temperature has been 7.6 C in Windsor. 

According to an area naturalist, the warm weather is having an effect on local wildlife. 

“Normally we get a number of [snowy owls] coming down and then we don’t see them again for years … their population is very cyclical,” said Paul Pratt, a retired naturalist and the current president of the Essex County Field Naturalists’ Club.

“But for some reason we’ve been getting good numbers for about six years in a row now.”

The snowy owl isn’t the only bird that watchers are thrilled to see.

“We have some birds that have lingered on that would normally be further south this year, things that need open water like belted kingfishers,” said Pratt. “Normally they’re pretty tough to [see] when everything is frozen up.”

And while owl and kingfisher counts are up, other birds, like finches, are completely missing in action. 

Garter snakes usually aren’t active during Windsor-Essex winters. Still, Paul Pratt, president of the Essex County Field Naturalists’ Club, says residents are reporting more sightings. (Windsor-Essex Nature Sightings/Facebook)

“This year, there’s lots of seeds up north and basically no boreal finches coming south,” said Pratt. “There’s no snow … it’s mild.”

Ring-necked pheasants used to be an easily-spotted bird in the region as well, but at this year’s Christmas bird count at Point Pelee, Pratt didn’t spot a single one. 

“They’re almost gone now … there’s one tiny patch of habitat outside Point Pelee and that’s about it,” he said.

Now, some bird watchers are concerned.

“People are asking me, ‘Where are the birds? I don’t have any birds at my feeder,'” said Pratt. “A big part of that is in winter when we have snow on the ground, birds have to concentrate into the best available habitat.”

There’s quite a bit of insect activity still around.– Paul Pratt, President, Essex Field Naturalists’ Club

“When it’s mild like this, they’re really dispersed. It’s a lot harder to find one single bird out in a bush, than it is to see a flock of 30 birds.”

People are also reporting “odd” things to Pratt — creatures that aren’t normally seen in the winter months.

“Bats, butterflies, frogs and garter snakes … things that should be tucked away at this time of the year,” said Pratt. “It’s pretty common to see different kinds of midges and flies … There’s quite a bit of insect activity still around.”

According to Pratt, birds, bugs and everything in between have grown acclimated to southwestern Ontario’s mild winters.

“They’re not fooled by just one cold day,” said Pratt, adding that adjusting to the temperatures has become part of the birds’ normal operating procedures. 

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