Birds struggling to survive the Maritimes' snow-covered spring
Published Thursday, April 9, 2015 10:39AM EDT
Atlantic Canadians endured record-breaking amounts of snowfall this winter that is refusing to melt away. Now, it's migratory birds that are struggling, as they return home to find the frozen, snowy ground blocking their access to food.
Zoologist Andrew Hebda, at the Nova Scotia Museum, says several species of birds are struggling because of the snow.
"Under normal circumstances, by the end of March to the beginning of May, we're getting a lot more heat, we're getting a lot less snow," he says. "And of course that opens up a lot more habitats for animals to forage."
But this year, birds such as robins and American woodcocks are having a hard time finding soft, moist earth where they can hunt for worms and insects, says Hebda.
"Ultimately, for them to survive and thrive, they require their principal food, which is insects, and for the woodcocks worms they find in leaf litter," he says.
Kim Cirtwill -- who works as caretaker for the Hope for Wildlife Society, an injured bird and animal rescue centre in Seaforth, N.S. -- says the birds have done their part, flying back home right on time. It's the snow that's not co-operating.
"They migrated at the time they were supposed to be migrating, however, because we still have two or three feet of snow, they don't have any food."
American woodcocks, which are usually shy, have been showing up at overcrowded bird feeders looking for anything to eat.
Several hungry birds have already died. Cirtwill is currently nursing eight woodcocks back to health. She says the lack of food prevents the birds from building up their strength to avoid attacks.
What's more, because the woodcocks rely on camouflage as their main defence strategy, the brown-coloured birds are finding nowhere to hide among snow-covered fields.
"A lot of them are just waiting for snow melt. Access to food, even access to nesting materials, is limited because of the snow being on top of everything," she says.
Bird caretakers say even if the birds make it through this harsh spring, there will likely be a late mating season resulting in fewer chicks, as the birds concentrate on building up their strength.
With a report from CTV Atlantic's Vince Williams