Our warm March has certainly kick-started the spring bird migration through the Niagara Peninsula and the city of Hamilton. Something exciting is happening with the colour black in birds in 2012.
Birdwatchers are seeing some new species and in new ways in the Hamilton area. This spring for the first time ever on March 22, two Black Vultures were seen migrating together at Beamer Memorial Conservation Area. And better still, a renowned nature photographer, Mr. Tom Thomas, was there to record the event of the two birds at Beamer flying overhead. Now to add to those excitement just days earlier another Black Vulture was seen migrating towards Hamilton on March 16.
Between the years 1961 - 2000 only 15 Black Vultures have been seen in the Hamilton area as noted in Bob Curry’s book, Birds of Hamilton. In the past decade a Black Vulture has been seen only every couple of years in the Hamilton area. To have three of these magnificent birds in less than a week is just phenomenal to the birding world.
|© Nick Chill|
In Hamilton we are used to seeing Turkey Vultures flying through our skies from March until November. Over 10,000 vultures, migrate in the spring alone. It was not that long ago when Turkey Vultures were rare. They started to nest in the Kelso area on the Niagara Escarpment in the 1940’s. In 1975 only 53 were recorded in the spring migration at Beamer. In 2011 there were over 6700 recorded by the Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch at Beamer. To the end of March of this year there have been 3400 Turkey vultures seen already. This is an increase of 72% over the 1980 vultures seen to the end of March in 2011. WOW!
In the fall migration of an estimated 100,000 Turkey Vultures leave Ontario on their southward migration each year. Not bad for a bird that was almost nonexistent here 70 years ago.
Now to most of us a vulture is a vulture. The difference is that Turkey Vultures have red heads, are a little larger than Black Vultures and the back half of their wing is light gray along the entire length. They seldom flap their wings. They just seem to float through the air.
|© Gerrit Vyn|
The Black Vulture has a black head and light gray wingtips. It flaps its wings more often and with its short tail the flight is very reminiscent of a bat in flight. And have legs and feet that are almost white.
In the Eastern United States there are thousands and thousands of Black Vultures from Southern Pennsylvania south to Florida and Central America but they are not as migratory as the Turkey Vulture.
Birders had high hopes for these sightings of Black Vultures this spring for there were five Black Vultures wintering along the Niagara River around Lewiston N.Y. last winter. This has not happened before either. We have no way of telling whether or not the three migrating birds seen at Beamer were part of the wintering five. Remember the mild winter. It was the likely reason that that these Blacks survived the winter along the Niagara River area.
This is not the first time some new bird species have shown up in Southern Ontario and stayed. The Cardinal did not appear in Hamilton area until 1923. Now it is in every neighbourhood and across all of
|© Jim Paris|
Southern Ontario. The now common Red-bellied Woodpecker did not show up in the Hamilton area in any number until the mid 1960’s. The same kind of story goes for the Mockingbird and the Carolina Wren as well.
Remember the Turkey Vulture was not a bird our parents saw. It has recently set up camp and is now in the thousands in migration.
So is it climate change? Maybe. Is it is habitat change? Maybe. Every species of bird seems to have a few adventurous members that are always exploring where the species has not gone before and some may find a new area suitable for their life.
The changes in these birds do one thing for sure and that is wonderful for those of us who enjoy nature. They are providing us with new wonderments every day. No year is the same.
So look very carefully at the next big black bird you see. It could be your brand new neighbour.
Manager Customer Service and Operations
Hamilton Conservation Authority