Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay bird observatory opens on McKellar Island

A Thunder Bay group has created a new bird observatory on McKellar Island.

The only other bird observatory in northwestern Ontario is at the tip of the Sleeping Giant

John Woodcock sits at Thunder Bay's news bird observatory station on McKellar Island in Thunder Bay. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

A Thunder Bay group has created a new bird observatory on McKellar Island.

The project officially launches on May 10, in conjunction with International Migratory Bird Day.

Field station manager and biologist John Woodcock said documentation is needed to know if the numbers of birds are fluctuating from year to year.

“The only way to do that is to take a sample every year and to take that sample the same way from year to year,” he said.

The observatory is a project of a non-profit group called Save Our Songbirds.

"From a management perspective, we need to know if there's a problem with the species,” Woodcock continued.

“If the species is severely in decline, then more study is needed to find out what is the problem … particularly now with global climate change. We need to keep track of how this climate change is affecting our songbirds."

The field station consists of a picnic table sheltered by a tarp strung up in trees, where birds are identified, looked over and banded.

Catch and release

A total of 15 "mist nets" have also been put up to trap birds flying through the forest. Another ground trap captures the winged creatures on the forest floor.

Volunteers check the nets every half hour for birds.  

They check the health of the bird, measure its wing-span, weigh it, and determine its sex and approximate age.  If it doesn't already have a numbered band on its leg, they band it for future tracking.

Then the bird is set free.

Bird stations around the world use these bands to help track migration routes. 

"So if someone else catches this bird and reports those numbers to the bird banding office then we get notification of where our bird went to,” Woodcock said.

The only other bird observatory in northwestern Ontario is at the tip of the Sleeping Giant, he noted.

The observatory at McKellar Island will catch a different population of birds, Woodcock added, and will be more accessible to the public.

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