THE CHICKADEE IS CHOSEN AS CALGARY'S OFFICIAL BIRD
The unveiling of the winner of the official vote will be on Saturday, May 14th starting at 11:30 am on the bluff overlooking the Weaselhead Natural Area at 37 street and 66 avenue SW.
Special guests will include Councillor Corrine Eagletail of the Tsuut’ina First Nation, Councillor Kourtney Penner of the City of Calgary, Alvin First Rider, Blood Tribe Land Management Environmental Technician and Norm Running Rabbit of the Siksika First Nation.
Input for choosing Calgary's Bird is now closed. Thanks to everyone who participated.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
The City of Calgary, in partnership with Nature Canada and Bird Friendly Calgary, needs your help in picking an official bird for YYC.
Did you know that Calgary is home to over 200 bird species? Some live here year round, while others just visit while migrating.
Now we’re choosing a bird to represent our city, raise awareness about how important urban wildlife and biodiversity is, and to celebrate Calgary’s birds!
How it started
In 2021, Calgary became one of Canada’s first certified Nature Canada Bird Friendly Cities, along with Vancouver, Toronto and London.
Did you know, in North America, we’ve lost an estimated 3 billion birds over the last 50 years due to a number of threats and conditions? This loss has huge impacts to our wildlife, their stability and diversity and to our future—as we’re part of the environment and impacted as well. More information is available here: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/bring-birds-back/
To help address this issue, Nature Canada developed a certification for Bird Friendly Cities. This certification recognizes and celebrates contributions municipalities make to save bird lives. The goal of certification is to give a clear standard about how and what a city needs to do to make it a safe place for birds. It tells the world that Calgary is is taking action to help our birds and reverse their declines in our own backyard.
Who is Bird Friendly Calgary?
Bird Friendly Calgary is a volunteer-run group made up of Calgarians from local environmental organizations and other folks who are interested in birds and biodiversity.
Why is this Bird Friendly certification important?
The certification process highlights work that Calgary has already undertaken to:
- mitigate threats to birds
- support habitat maintenance and restoration; and
- increase community outreach and education.
How does this help Calgary’s birds?
As a Bird Friendly City, some of our goals include:
- reducing the numbers of bird window strikes,
- educating and building public support on the importance of reducing roaming cats; and
- creating and enacting policies that support birds and other wildlife.
How did they pick the top five?
Bird Friendly Calgary reached out to all Treaty 7 nations, Metis Region 3 and birding/nature groups to help narrow the list of candidates down to five great choices:
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Black-billed Magpie
- Northern Flicker
- Red-breasted Nuthatch
- Blue Jay
Meet your Nominees
Common Name: Black-capped Chickadee
Latin Name: Poecile atricapillus
Size: 12-15cm in length – smaller than a sparrow
Sounds: Chickadees have a variety of sounds including ones that sound like they might be saying cheeseburger, I did-it, Hey baby and the sound for which they are named, chicka-dee-deedee-dee.
Range: A year-round resident coast to coast in Canada and across much of the United States.
Habitat: Found primarily in deciduous and mixed forests, cottonwood groves, parks and in human dominated areas including a frequent visitor to backyards.
Diet: Insects, spiders and other animal material in the summer with a switch to berries, seeds, nuts, frozen insects and spiders in the winter.
Ecosystem role: Chickadees are excellent insect and spider control, particularly during nesting. In the short time it takes to get chicks out of the nest (about 3 weeks), chickadees will need between 5000-9000 insects to feed their brood! Caterpillars, aphids and spiders make up much of this diet but they aren’t overly picky.
Fun facts: Chickadees are social birds often flocking together with other species during the winter including nuthatches and woodpeckers. They are also one of the friendliest backyard birds staying close while people are around. They learn the alarm calls of other birds and use it to their advantage to hide from incoming predators.
In the fall and winter, the brain of chickadees actually gets bigger! In order to remember where they cache thousands of seeds the part of the brain responsible for spatial memory (the hippocampus) actually grows. Studies have shown that chickadees can remember the location of seeds a month after they have cached them! Seeds are stored underneath tree bark, in tall hollow stems and clusters of pine needles and any other nooks and crannies they can find.
There are three species of chickadees found in Calgary. Aside from black-capped chickadees, the
city is home to boreal and mountain chickadee.
Common Name: Black-billed Magpie
Latin Name: Pica hudsonia
Size and identifying feature: 45-60cm in length. Easily identified by long tail feathers
Sounds: Magpies have a variety of sounds including ones that sound like maaagh?! wenk-wenkwenk
Range: Year-round resident from Alaska south into British Columbia and east to Manitoba along with much of the United States
Habitat: Natural habitat is open forests, grasslands and plains but magpies are frequent visitors to urban backyards
Diet: Insects, seed, fruit, carrion, small mammals and birds. Not overly picky about their diet and will also eat leftover food scraps from people and pets
Ecosystem Role: Magpies play a number of important roles in the urban ecosystem. Their most important role may be as scavengers who by eating leftover scraps prevent the spread of disease through the food chain, including to people. They also play a big role in pest control from insects to rodents.
Fun Facts: Magpies are members of the corvid family. Other members of the corvid family include crows, ravens, jays and nutcrackers. Many people know how smart crows and ravens are and like their cousins, magpies are super intelligent! Magpies have been shown to recognize faces like crows and also like crows have been known to bring gifts to those who are kind to them.
In the winter deer and moose in the city can suffer from infestations of winter ticks, that’s right there are ticks active in winter! In fact, these ticks can become so numerous on moose that they have become one of the leading causes of mortality for young moose. But there is good news when it comes to magpies! Magpies behave like birds on the savannah that follow animals around and pick bugs on them only they do it in the winter in Canada! Magpies will land on moose and pick the ticks off them while the moose go about their day. By doing this, they may help young moose make it through the winter!
While they help moose now, magpies historically would have done the same for bison on the grassland plains that used to cover Alberta. As bison declined, so too did magpies but they didn’t disappear! While the bison aren’t roaming the plains anymore, magpies have found their new home in the city becoming one of the most prolific and successful urban wildlife species!
Magpies make a large domed shaped nest of twigs. It has two entrances. This might make it easier to leave the nest because of its long tail as it does not need to turn around. Magpies will often mob owls and hawks to chase them away. This can be useful for birders to know that there might be one nearby. In the urban yard, magpies are excellent warning systems for predators including roaming cats. If you hear magpies making a fuss, check it out, you might see something new!
You may have heard about how ravens and crows will follow packs of wolves and let them know when potential prey or carrion they could scavenge is nearby. Well, something similar can be found on the prairies and in the city with coyotes and magpies. If you see magpies flying along somewhat close to the ground in our natural areas, look down, you might see a coyote trotting along beneath them!
Common Name: Blue Jay
Latin Name: Cyanocitta cristata
Size and identifying feature: 25-30cm in length. About the same size as a robin, easily identified by the blue colour and blue crest on top of the head.
Sounds: Jay-Jay-Jay, fee-der-de-lurp, queedle-queedle-queedle
Range: Common across Eastern Canada and the United States. Starting to occur more in the West from Saskatchewan into Alberta.
Habitat: Forests, particularly those with oak trees but is a frequent visitor to backyards.
Diet: Insects, seeds, nuts, carrion, small mammals and birds
Ecosystem Role: Insect and pest control, disease control through scavenging and seed dispersal. Blue Jays cache seeds, primarily in the fall and winter and those they do not eat have been spread away from their natal area to grow.
Fun Facts: With a strong connection to oak forests, Blue Jays did not historically live in Alberta. Over the last 40 years sightings have increased and Blue Jays can now be seen breeding and living year-round in the province. What has caused their expansion is up for debate but their adaptability to urban living and landscape changes that made movement along riparian corridors easier have been suggested.
Blue Jays are excellent mimics, copying other birds including hawks and other predators. Sometimes, they use these sounds to scare other birds off feeders so they can have exclusive access. Not only can they mimic other birds but they have been known to imitate people and cats as well!
Like the Northern Flicker, Blue Jays use ants for parasite control. They will bathe in ants to release the ants' defensive chemical, formic acid. This happens to act as a great deterrent for mites and other parasites.
Blue Jays are social birds with strong bonds to their mate and extended family.
Common Name: Northern Flicker
Latin Name: Colaptes auratus
Size and identifying features: 28-31cm. Watch for a flash of yellow/orange/red on the underside of the wings
Sounds: Flick-Flick-Flick, wick-wick-wick or a high-pitched pew, pew
Range: Year-round resident through much of southern Canada and the United States. Breeds across all of Canada. Individual birds may shift their range between summer breeding and winter homes. (Purple – year-round range Blue – non-breeding Orange – summer/breeding range)
Habitat: Natural habitat is open woodland forest but can often be seen in backyards Diet: Insects, fruit, seeds and nuts. Can often be seen at backyard feeders, particularly in the winter.
Ecosystem Role: Flickers are prolific anteaters consuming up to 5000 a day during the summer! With this, they help control ant populations. Their love of insects can also help prevent disease in trees where they eat the larvae of potentially damaging insects before they cause trouble. Flickers create cavities in trees for nesting which can be used by other animals as well including owls, bufflehead and goldeneye ducks, other cavity nesting songbirds and mammals.
Fun Facts: Flickers are members of the woodpecker family but unlike other woodpeckers, flickers are often found on the ground eating since ants are their favorite!
The Northern Flicker was once thought to be two separate species, the Red-shafted and the
Yellow-shafted Flicker. The Red-shafted sub-species males have red "mustaches" malar stripes
while the Yellow-shafted have black malar stripes. It is thought that the glaciers of the ice age
separated the flicker into two separate areas long enough that they developed different markings
including the malar stripes. With the retreat of the glaciers their two separate populations are
now coming together and because they can successfully mate with each other they are now
called the Northern Flicker.
Flickers don’t just eat ants, they also use them for grooming. While enjoying a snack, flickers can be seen almost bathing in ants. These ants will release their defense, formic acid which actually acts as an antiparasitic, helping ward off mites and other parasites!
Flickers and woodpeckers often get a bad rap for drilling holes in house siding. There are two reasons they might do this:
1. To create a nest cavity. If natural nesting sites are in short supply, woodpeckers may turn to homes to raise their brood. Providing them with an artificial nest box can solves this problem!
2. The second reason woodpeckers peck at houses is to get insects. In this case, they are doing you a favor! If you notice woodpeckers going at wood siding, it might be a good idea to take a closer look. They may be finding a problem before it gets too big!
In the spring males can be heard drumming on trees in our natural areas to let everyone know where their territory but they have discovered that light standards work really well too! If you hear a rapid tapping outside your window, take a look, it might be a flicker trying to bring in the ladies!
Common Name: Red-breasted Nuthatch
Latin Name: Sitta canadensis
Size and identifying feature: 11cm in length. Could be confused with a chickadee at first glance but look for them hanging on tree trunks head facing down
Sounds: ni-ni-ni, yank-yank-yank
Range: Found across North America either year-round or as a winter resident
Habitat: Natural habitat is primarily conifer forests but can be found in mixed forests but also a
frequent backyard visitor.
Diet: Insects and conifer seeds. Will also visit backyard feeders.
Ecosystem Role: Important insect eater, particularly for spruce budworm. Nuthatches can be seen sticking their beaks under bark to get at insects and in years when spruce budworm is high, nuthatches can be seen picking them off in large numbers, preventing trees from getting too damaged.
Fun Facts: Nuthatches can be distinguished from other birds by their upside down posture on trees.
Nuthatch migration depends on food availability. If there is lots of food, the birds won’t migrate but if food is scarce, they will shift their range in the winter. This is known as irruption. Snowy owls are another irruptive species which can be found in great numbers around Calgary some years and barely any the next.
Red-breasted Nuthatches are small but mighty. During nesting season they can be seen chasing off larger birds, aggressively defending their territory.
The Red-breasted Nuthatch is a cavity nester. It can make its own nest or will use a cavity previously made by a woodpecker or a bird box. They often will smear sticky sap or resin around the outside of their nest hole to which may help ward off pests like ants.
Red-breasted Nuthatches are one of two nuthatch species in Alberta. The other is the slightly larger white-breasted nuthatch. The calls are similar but the white-breasted has an almost entirely white front compared to the red-breast and black eye streaks of the red-breasted.
There are a few ways you can participate! You can have your say by voting for Calgary's Bird. You can start a conversation with fellow bird enthusiasts or post your favourite bird picture in the gallery below.
Why can't I submit a picture of me or my friends feeding the birds?
Did you know feeding birds can hurt them more than help them - birds are good at finding their own food, and feeding them can cause them to lose that ability. Please continue to help us keep nature wild by not approaching or feeding wildlife – not even our favourite, fine-feathered friends! Thank you for your understanding.
You can find more information here:
P.S. Calgary has a bylaw asking that you don’t disturb or feed wildlife and this includes birds. We’ve posted the document below for ease of reference.