We’ve been learning about various kinds of birds that migrate south during Alberta’s long, cold winters. What about the birds of prey – owls, hawks, eagles and falcons? It turns out that some stay but many leave for southern clines.
Most owls stay for the winter and use their keen hearing to listen for small mammals moving under the snow. In fact, the local owls are getting ready for breeding season and can be heard calling at night.
The endangered burrowing owl, a grasslands species, is one of the few owl species that migrates. These little owls live on the ground in abandoned burrows and eat insects and small mammals; winter conditions would be too harsh for them to survive. For arctic species like the snowy owl, Alberta is a warmer place to spend the winter, and if you are lucky, you may see one in open, flat areas.
Most hawks leave for the winter, and return in the spring to breed. Prey, such as small mammals, become less visible in our snowy winters. Most falcons also leave for the winter. A sure sign of spring is the return of the colourful and feisty little kestrel.
There are two species of eagle in Alberta: the bald eagle and golden eagle. Although bald eagles feed primarily on fish, some bald eagles choose to stay in the winter feeding primarily on carrion. In the fall, thousands of golden eagles can be seen soaring high along Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, following a traditional route south. Many birders flock to the Rockies to witness this amazing site.
And still more migrators Batman!
There is one other group of animals that migrates – bats. There are nine species of bats in Alberta, six of which stay and hibernate, and three species that head south: hoary bat, silver-haired bat and the eastern red bat.
The migratory species are also known as tree bats because they roost amongst the foliage of trees, unlike other species that roost in cavities and crevices. It is amazing that these tiny creatures, some weighing about as much as a toonie, travel long distances. The migratory bats may still end up hibernating or going into torpor (lower the body temperature) once they reach their destination.
The only thing left is to find out when we will see the birds and bats plan to make their return to Alberta. While there have been recent observations of Canada geese, some of the first migrators to return, the final part of this series will answer that question wholly.