Maritime birds starving because of deep snow

Birds in the Maritimes are having trouble finding food due to the deep snow and frozen ground.

Robins, woodcocks and other 'early migrants' struggling with delayed spring

Pamela Gallant shot this video of a woodcock in Bedford seeking a worm. 1:05

Birds in the Maritimes are having trouble finding food due to the deep snow and frozen ground. 

Dave Currie, president of the Nova Scotia Bird Society, says he's had lots of calls from people who've found dead or starving birds in their yards.

"The problem is that they have nowhere to go. The woods and the alder thickets and the normal breeding areas where these birds would be are still full of snow and it's impossible for them to find food because of the icy crust that's below the snow surface," said Currie.  

"Also, it's just too far for them to get through that snow to get food."

Until the snow melts, Currie and Helene Van Doninck, the veterinarian in charge of Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, have suggestions for helping birds in your neighbourhood.

  1. Put berries, grapes and finely shredded apple or jam in a pie plate outside. This will give robins — who don't eat seeds — a burst of energy.
  2. Scatter seeds, which pheasants and other winter birds eat. These species have been doing a bit better, but are still having trouble because of the deep snow cover. 
  3. Some have had luck with mashed up hard-boiled egg yolks, spread over the lawn. Watch out for cats, however. Woodcocks fly slowly, which makes them susceptible to predators. Normally they feed in the cover of night, but have been venturing out in the daytime out of desperation.
  4. Van Doninck suggests buying bait worms, such as you'd get for fishing. She says woodcocks and other birds eat insects and worms specifically and may not recognize alternatives like egg or cat food. 
  5. Transport weak birds in a dark and warm box, keeping them as calm as possible. Then you could take them to an animal rehabilitation centre.
  6. Shovel clear a patch of your lawn on the south­ side of your property. This ground is more likely to have less snow and be softer.
  7. Toss around dog hair, lint and yarn scraps. Birds will use these to line their nests. Birds have been flocking to roadsides and foundations of homes where the ground is warmer and possibly clear of snow, as well.

Van Doninick said the centre has nine owls in care. She says they were found starving from not finding enough mice under the snow. 

Early migrants having hardest time

One Nova Scotia Bird Society member in Bedford found a hungry bird Wednesday morning and posted her tale to Facebook.

Pamela Gallant said the bird looked "close to death," but she tucked him into a towel-­lined box and fed him crushed seed mixed with water.

"He started to perk up a little bit," said Gallant. "Sadly he didn't make it."

Currie wasn't surprised by that outcome. 

"If it's already gone by that point where you can catch it, it's probably too late, and it's likely at a point where it may not survive, even overnight," he said. "But it doesn't hurt to try."

Bedford resident Pamela Gallant tried unsuccessfully to save this sparrow. (Courtsey Pamela Gallant)

The "early migrant" birds are having the toughest time. These are birds such as robins and woodcocks who come to Nova Scotia for the spring. The birds come here to feast on worms and bugs dug out of soft spring ground — an impossible task with the deep snow. 

"It could be that we are now experiencing hopefully the last of the migration for these birds until we can see some of this snow melt and some of the grassy areas bare up some so that they can feed on the ground," said Currie.

Currie says he's concerned it could take several years for the woodcock population to rebound.

Gallant says she has a bit of good news about birds. A woodcock was poking around a grassy spot of her yard this afternoon, she says, and that was all the motivation she needs to keep an eye out for the birds.

"Do what you can to help these poor little souls," said Gallant. "Birds especially have so much going against them. So many things can kill a bird so whatever we can do, I think we should."

CBC meteorologist Kalin Mitchell has forecast the snow won't fully melt until May.

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