Thursday 28 January 2021

Conifers of Western Canada


Most coniferous trees keep their foliage all year round, adding a welcome touch of green to a snowy winter landscape. We tend to use the terms conifer and evergreen interchangeably, but that’s incorrect. Some conifers lose their needles in the fall, while some evergreens don’t bear cones – hence, they aren’t conifers. 

Conifers are gymnosperms and were some of the earliest trees to appear on the planet. Unlike angiosperms, gymnosperms do not flower and their seeds are not protected by a fruit. Contrast this with cherry or oak trees, which flower in the spring and produce fruit (cherries and acorns) later in the year. Gymnosperm seeds are naked and attached to the scales of cones. 

Unlike deciduous trees that have broad leaves they lose every fall, the leaves on conifers are usually short and shaped like needles. You may not think they shed their needles, but they do. The needles on larches and tamaracks turn yellow and drop from the tree every fall. Other conifers only lose a few of their needles every 3-5 years, usually in the fall. As the trees shed older needles, the inner parts of the tree will be less dense than the outer parts of the tree where there has been new growth. 

The wood of conifer trees is softer than the wood of deciduous trees and they often have fragrant, sappy bark. The roots, stems, leaves, and cones contain resin ducts that secrete a sticky material. Conifers use the pitch or resin to seal wounds and areas where they have shed bark or branches. As with so many natural materials, humans have been able to benefit, using the resin to caulk wooden sailing ships and to produce turpentine. 

Conifers are much more common in cooler temperate and boreal areas, such as Western Canada, but they exhibit greater diversity in warmer areas, such as tropical mountains, where the winters aren’t as harsh and the summers longer and less dry. 

There are four main groups of conifers in Western Canada: fir, pine, spruce, and larch. 

Fir trees are shaped like cones with a wide base tapering to a narrow crown. They have soft, flat needles with two white stripes on the underside. The needles are attached directly to the branch. The scales fall off the cones every fall, leaving behind an erect central stem. 

Balsam Fir is found in forests as well as urban areas. It is a tall (60-70 ft) narrow tree tapering to a skinny point. Its short (1 in) flat needles curve upwards, as do the barrel-shaped, greyish-brown cones. Balsam fir may not be able to re-establish itself after a fire as it loses all its seeds every year, unlike other conifers that retain cones from one year to the next. 

Pine trees have small clusters of long, narrow needles. They shed their needles more frequently (every 3 years) than spruce or fir (4-5 years), so they usually appear thinner and less dense. Some pines retain their cones for many years. Pines are important commercially for both lumber and pulp as they grow quickly and can be planted close together. Pines have two sorts of cones – small ones attached to new shoots that produce large quantities of pollen in the spring and larger, woody, seed-bearing cones. You can find both old and new cones on pine and spruce trees as they don’t fall off immediately. 

Jack Pine (15-65 ft) is the most widely distributed tree in Canada and is common in Canada’s boreal forest. It grows well in poor soil and is short, gnarled, and crooked when growing in shallow, rocky soil. Jack Pine has short needles in bunches of two that are spread apart in a V. The cones point forward along the branch or curl around it. Most Jack Pine cones are sealed with a special resin and only open to release their seeds during a forest fire or in very hot sunlight. 

Lodgepole Pine grows well in the foothills and Rocky Mountains of western North America. It can also be found in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan and Alberta. They are one of the first trees to appear after a fire. The needles are paired and often twisted, forming dense clusters at the ends of branches. The cones are small and egg-shaped with prickles at the tip. The cones grow in small clusters, either at right angles to the branch or facing back towards the trunk. In the spring, look for clusters of reddish-green male pollen cones at the tips of the branches. The pollen is so abundant it can be seen in patches on lakes or forming a yellow line marking the water level on rocks along the shore. 

Whitebark Pine is found in the western mountain ranges of Canada and the United States. It can live for more than 500 years. 
Spruce trees (60-100 ft) have a cone-shaped silhouette and prefer moist forested sites and mountainous areas. Four-sided needles are arranged in a spiral around the stem and are attached to small pegs that remain behind after the needles drop. Spruce needles are shorter than pine needles and grow on all sides of the branch, unlike fir where the branches look flat as the needles only grow on two sides of the branch. The cones hang downwards and can usually be found at the top of the tree. 

Black and White Spruce are found in Canada and the northern United States. Black Spruce is usually found near water or marshy areas and is narrow with very little foliage except in a clump at the top of the tree. White Spruce prefers upland areas with well-drained soil. It is broader and shaped like a pyramid. Engelmann Spruce is found in the western mountains of Canada and the United States. Sitka Spruce has stiff, sharp needles and is found in a narrow band along the northwest coast of North America. 

Larch are slender trees with straight, tapering trunks and soft, feathery needles that turn a brilliant yellow in the fall before dropping to the ground. They are native to cooler, northern areas, such as the boreal forests and mountainous regions of Canada and Russia. 

Western Larch is found in moist locations on northern mountain slopes and valley bottoms. Tamarack, also known as Eastern Larch, is found across Canada and in the northeastern United States and is shorter than Western Larch. 

Tamarack is a thin, medium-sized tree (50-65 ft) with reddish-brown bark that becomes scaly as the tree ages. It is often found alongside Black Spruce in bogs or marshes or on cool, moist, north-facing slopes. The greenish-blue needles are 5-7 inches long and grow in clusters of 15-25. Both male and female cones may appear on the same branch. Male cones look like small mounds of yellow or brown pollen sacs. The female cones resemble pine cones. When mature, the female cones are brown, .4-.8 in long, on short curved stalks. Tamarack can tolerate very cold temperatures and can be found at the edge of the tundra on the Arctic tree line. The name comes from an Algonquin word meaning wood used for snowshoes. 

To learn more about trees in Western Canada, check out EcoFriendly Sask’s Nature Companion, a free nature app for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.

Tuesday 26 January 2021

EcoSask News, January 26, 2021

frost over the river

Upcoming Events 
Graduate Program Overviews, Jan. 27, Feb. 11, Mar. 2 (online) 
The School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan, is offering online overviews of their programs on Jan. 27 (7:30 pm), Feb. 11 (1:30 pm), or Mar. 2 (7:30 am)

Get Outside! Kids’ Club, Feb. 3/10 (Regina) 
Children ages 6-12 are invited to register for the Get Outside! Kids’ Club at 10 am, Feb. 3 or 10. 

Looking Ahead 
Outdoor Experience (North Battleford, Prince Albert, Rosthern)
Enjoy an all ages-friendly, outdoor event with your bubble hosted by SaskOutdoors and Wildernook Fresh Air Learning: 
Feb. 21 - Rosthern 
Feb. 28 - North Battleford 
Mar. 7 - Prince Albert 

Native Plant Society AGM, Feb. 27 (online) 
The Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan will be hosting an online annual general meeting on Feb. 27. This year’s theme is Nature to the Rescue and will discuss how we can be more involved with nature on a local scale. 

A full list of upcoming events (online and in person) can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar 

Local News 
Local groups are asking for support on three petitions. You can: 

CPAWS SK reminds us that our water systems are all connected. The Saskatchewan River Delta will be greatly impacted by the Lake Diefenbaker irrigation plan.
frosty pigeon

Educational Resources 
Earth Rangers School Clubs are a new program for elementary students and their teachers. Environmental-based lessons, activities, and worksheets are available free of charge. 

The Alberta WaterPortal Society provides online games and videos for water learning at home

From Information to Action 
Canadians drive the most polluting cars in the world – participate in a Feb 17 webinar on fixing Canada's car conundrum. 

Your Zoom work conferences, Netflix binging, and video chats with friends are all adding up in your carbon footprint.

“Creating a new, renewable electricity grid is going to require substantial new transmission capacity. In terms of direct impacts, there isn’t necessarily much difference between siting a pipeline and siting a transmission line.” 

The lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles carry a huge environmental burden and could cause a health and environmental crisis

A Finnish hockey team has gone carbon neutral. 

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. 

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Check out EcoFriendly Sask’s Nature Companion, a free nature app for Canada’s four western provinces 

Thursday 21 January 2021

2020 EcoFriendly Action Grants

Northern Leopard frog

EcoFriendly Sask provided over $24,000 in EcoFriendly Sask Action Grants to 35 individuals and organizations in 2020. It was a difficult year and some organizations were unable to use their grant due to Covid-19, but many others were successful. 

Meeting the Challenge 
The Saskatoon Zoo Society met the Covid challenge by taking their school programming online. An EcoFriendly Action Grant ensured that 5 classes that could not otherwise have afforded the program were able to participate. 128 students took a virtual tour of the zoo and loved seeing the live animals in addition to an online presentation. 

Spring clean-ups were harder to organize this year as it was so important to maintain social distancing and proper hygiene. Wildernook Fresh Air Learning didn’t let that stop them from organizing two clean-up events. 132 people took part in the Rubbish Roundup, collecting 104 bags of garbage in 40 different areas. Students in 6 Saskatoon classes participated in an Earth Day Challenge to see who could collect the most garbage. 

Waste Reduction 
Three organizations were keen to reduce waste in 2020. UCan YQR received funding to help them get off the ground. Their goal is to use traditional preserving techniques to help keep food out of landfills and get it into the hands of those that need it most. 

Coronach EDY Community Development Co-operative and SK Eco Solutions asked for help in setting up plastic recycling and conversion projects. The Coronach group used open-source blueprints from Precious Plastic to build shredder, extrusion, and press machines. Sophia and Kai, two high school students in Saskatoon, are behind SK Eco Solutions. They purchased a PetBot to turn plastic bottles into filament and are looking forward to getting their project out of the testing phase in 2021. 

Troutreach Saskatchewan is studying winter activity in Northern Leopard Frogs after noticing groups overwintering under the ice in the Qu’Appelle River. They want to discover if frog distribution under the ice is uniform or dependent on specific habitats (e.g. riffles or pools) and whether the frogs are foraging for food below the ice. This information will help manage instream flow and protect critical frog habitats. 

The Whitewood Recreation Association received a grant to help them establish a nature trail and clean up the current ecosystem. 

Langenburg & District Daycare Co-operative continues to improve its outdoor space for children and wildlife. This year they added native plants as well as bird and bat boxes. St. Michael’s School, Weyburn, is developing a traditional medicine garden in the schoolyard, while the Boreal Rangers Outdoor Adventure 4-H Club families cleaned up rubbish and received a grant to purchase reusable camping equipment and are looking forward to the day when they can go camping together again. 

The Grade 10 English Language Arts teacher at Delisle Composite School believes her students are thirsty for knowledge and was eager to provide them with additional resources centring on the environment and our ecosystems. She used an EcoFriendly Action Grant to purchase novels, non-fiction, graphic novels, poetry, and anthologies for students to read and discuss. 

EcoFriendly Action Grants are small grants (usually $500) to support projects that protect, preserve, or repair the natural environment.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner). 

Article updated: SK Eco Solutions are turning plastic bottles into filament

A full list of upcoming events (online and in person) can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

Tuesday 19 January 2021

EcoSask News, January 19, 2021


Upcoming Events 
Sustainable YXE, Jan. 21 (online) 
Saskatoon Public Library is hosting an online discussion for teens about making our community more sustainable from 6-7 pm, Jan. 21. 

Vacationing in the Tropics, Jan. 22 (online) 
Nicholas Bayly will discuss the ecology and conservation of Canadian-breeding migratory birds in Colombia in the WildEcol Seminar Series at 3:30 pm, Jan. 22. 

Wildlife Rehab Orientation, Jan. 23 (online) 
WRSOS is holding a virtual wildlife rehabilitation orientation at 1 pm, Jan. 23. 

Eco-Scavenger Hunt, Jan. 23 & 30 (Saskatoon) 
Meewasin Valley Authority is hosting self-directed eco-scavenger hunts to help track wildlife at Beaver Creek Conservation Area on Jan. 23 & 30; Feb. 13, 18, 19, & 27; and Mar. 13 & 27. 

Where & How People Live, Jan. 26 (online) 
There will be an online discussion of how climate change is contributing to human migration as well as an update on local climate action at 7 pm, Jan. 26, as part of the Sustainability Speaker Series organized by the Saskatoon Public Library and the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. 

A Landscape Ethic, Jan. 28 (online) 
Dr. Hamilton Greenwood will share his photographic adventures and reflections on the beauty of Western Canada online at 7 pm, Jan. 28 (John M. Cuelenaere Library, Prince Albert). 

At Risk: Mormon Metalmark Butterflies, Jan. 28 (online) 
Shelley Pruss, Parks Canada, will discuss Mormon Metalmark butterflies, an uncommon species found in the Prairie Badlands at noon, Jan. 28, as part of the Native Prairie Speaker Series. 

Winter Readiness, Jan. 28 (online) 
Regina Public Library and Parks Canada are offering a program on animals that are masters at adapting to winter conditions at 7 pm, Jan. 28. 

Looking Ahead
Speed Networking, Jan. 29 (online) 
The Canadian Environmental Network is hosting a speed networking hour at 3 pm, Jan. 29, to help environmental organization leaders meet and find ways to collaborate

Repair Café, Jan. 30 (online) 
The Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council is hosting a virtual repair café 11 am-2 pm, Jan. 30. 

Winter Walk, Jan. 30 (Regina) 
The public is invited to join Nature Regina for a bird watching walk and to find out what happens under the snow and ice in winter at 10, 10:30, or 11 am, Jan. 30. 

Saskatoon Nature Society Field Trips 
Jan. 30, 11 am-7 pm – Great Gray Owl Excursion 
Feb. 6, 2-3:30 pm – Forestry Farm Bird Walk 
Field trips are currently for members only, so sign up now. Advance registration is required. 

A full list of upcoming events (online and in person) can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar 

Local News 
The Athabasca Nuhenéné community has set up a Facebook page to share their connection to their land and culture and the need to preserve it

Agricultural drainage standards need to be in place and enforced to protect the environment and people. 

New! Responding to Climate Change: A Primer for K-12 Education, Sustainability and Education Policy Network 

The University of Saskatchewan and FCL continue to support research into cleaning up and managing contaminated sites

A growing chorus of experts says carbon capture isn’t all that effective and could even add to greenhouse gas emissions. 

How will Saskatchewan’s water supply be affected by Alberta's decisions regarding coal mining? Although a few coal leases were cancelled (January 18, 2021), most remain and would affect the water source for the Canadian Prairies.

From Information to Action 
Hydrogen is a lifeline for the oil and gas industry and a distraction from proven technologies – wind, solar, battery storage. 

The textile industry creates 10% of global CO2 emissions. “With production projected to increase 81% by 2030, we are sleepwalking into an environmental disaster.” 

“By 2040, forests will take up only half as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they do now, if global temperatures keep rising at the present pace.” 

Good News 
Two 17-year-olds are on a mission – to rewild Britain by restoring reptile and amphibian species that are either virtually extinct or have been extinct for centuries. 

The Harmony Project offers teaching resources to develop learning based on a deep understanding of, and connection to, the natural world

Thank you for reading EcoSask News. If you enjoyed it, please share it with someone – or many someones! 

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner). 

Did you know? Great Gray Owl have very good hearing and can detect prey under 2 ft of snow thanks to the facial disc feathers that channel sound to the ears (Nature Companion, a free nature app for Western Canada)

Thursday 14 January 2021

Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle: Tips for Decluttering Your Home and the Planet

Here are a few tips to help you reduce, repair, reuse, and recycle in Saskatchewan. 

1. Pause before you buy to avoid purchases you’ll later regret. 
2. Get the most out of what you buy by checking for reliability and repairability. 
3. Buy in bulk or buy products with less packaging
4. Take advantage of or initiate a library of things that loans infrequently used objects at little or no charge (e.g. Library of Things YXE). 
5. Take advantage of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore (Regina, Saskatoon) to purchase used home furnishings and construction materials. 
6. Obtain garden seeds from a seed library (Prince Albert, Saskatoon), at a Seedy Saturday event, or a garden exchange. 

1. Write a letter to a manufacturer expressing your concern about the overpackaging of their products
2. Let your local member of parliament know that you believe manufacturers should be held physically and financially responsible for collecting, processing, and repurposing their materials after they’ve been used by consumers (additional information). 

1. Take advantage of local repair cafés when they are open (Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Swift Current). The Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council has been offering virtual repair cafés during the Covid-19 pandemic. 
2. iFixit provides step-by-step guides for fixing just about anything. 

1. Push for right-to-repair legislation in Canada so that consumers can fix and modify their gadgets, appliances, and vehicles. 

1. Pass along your old stuff (e.g. phone, tablet). It might be out-of-date for you but perfectly fine for someone else. 
2. Food banks and thrift stores will often accept used clothing, kitchenware, and household furnishings. 
3. Hold a yard sale. 
4. Take advantage of a Little Free Library near you.
4. Upcycle fabric and art supplies (e.g. Regina's Art Supply Exchange, Yorkton's Art and Craft Supplies Exchange, Saskatoon's Nefilibata Arts and Crafts). 

1. The Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council maintains a database listing what can be recycled and where for communities in Saskatchewan. 
2. Loraas provides a list of what can be recycled in Saskatoon. Here is what can be recycled in Lloydminster, Regina, and Swift Current
3. London Drugs accepts items (e.g. batteries, light bulbs, ink cartridges) that have been purchased at their stores. 
4. Staples accepts items such as ink and toner cartridges, rechargeable batteries, and electronics. 
5. SARCAN operates recycling depots in a number of Saskatchewan communities and accepts beverage containers, electronics, household paint, and batteries. 
6. BN Steel & Metals, Saskatoon, and TruGreen Metal Recycling, Regina, are two of the SK businesses recycling scrap metal. 

Warning: Recycling information changes frequently. Check with local businesses for the most up-to-date information

1. Encourage your municipality to start or expand an organics recycling program. 

Additional Resources 
Waste Not yxe on Facebook 
Waste Not yqr on Facebook
Green Living (SWRC blog) 

January 14, 2021

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner)

A full list of upcoming events (both online and in person) can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

Graphics: iStock (000013321780, 000015889240)

Tuesday 12 January 2021

EcoSask News, January 12, 2021

Bohemian waxwing

Upcoming Events 
Film-Making Workshop, Jan. 14 (online) 
Let’s Talk About Water, Global Institute for Water Security, is offering a free film-making workshop for youth at 10 am, Jan. 14 

Lessons from the Arctic, Jan. 14 (online) 
There will be an online talk on what the Arctic can teach us as we face global challenges of sustainability at 5 pm, Jan. 14. 

SaskOutdoors Member Mingling, Jan. 15 (online) 
SaskOutdoors members are invited to mingle virtually from 7-7:45 pm, Jan. 15. 

Learn to Camp, Jan. 18 (online)
Saskatoon Public Library is offering a series of workshops with basic camping skills and activities7-8 pm, Jan. 18 – Winter Readiness
WUQWATR Programs, Jan. 18 (online) 
There will be a presentation on WUQWATR programs at the 7 pm, Jan. 18, online meeting of Nature Regina

The Land Feeds Us, Jan. 20 (online)
Join Wild About Saskatoon for an online discussion around Indigenous food sovereignty and urban biodiversity at 7 pm, Jan. 20.

Regina EnviroCollective, Jan. 21 (online) 
Regina’s EnviroCollective will be meeting online from 7-10 pm, Jan. 21. 

Friends of Wascana Marsh AGM, Jan. 21 (online) 
Friends of Wascana Marsh will be holding a virtual annual general meeting at 7 pm, Jan. 21. Send them an email to receive the link. 

Rethinking Methane, Jan. 21 (online) 
Frank Mitloehner will discuss rethinking methane to show how animal agriculture is on the path to climate neutrality at the 7:30 pm, Jan. 21, virtual meeting of the Saskatoon Nature Society. Join the SNS to participate

Addressing Social Isolation in Winter, Jan. 21 (online) 
Join 8 80 Cities for an online discussion from 11:30 am-1:30 pm (CST), Jan. 21, as 3 Winter Cities share their experiences in engaging communities in creating more inclusive winter-friendly public spaces that support social connection and reduce social isolation. 

Project Wet, Jan. 21 & 28 (online) 
SaskOutdoors is offering an online workshop to equip educators with activities and resources for teaching about water from 7-9 pm, Jan. 21 & 28.
Bohemian waxwings

Looking Ahead 
Repair Café, Jan. 30 (online) 
The Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council is hosting a virtual repair café 11 am-2 pm, Jan. 30. 

Early Childhood Outdoor Education, Feb. 2, 9, 23 (online) 
SaskOutdoors is offering a 3-part online series to help bring early childhood education outdoors from 7-9 pm, Feb. 2, 9, and 23. 

Orienteering for Educators, Feb. 8 (online) 
SaskOutdoors is offering a webinar on orienteering for educators (formal and informal) from 7-8 pm, Feb. 8. 

A full list of upcoming events (online and in person) can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar 

Local News 
Starting a native plant garden has never been easier - just order online from Blazing Star Wildflower Seed Company. 

They’ve protected endangered black-footed ferrets against Covid-19 in Colorado 

From Information to Action 
Small modular nuclear reactors – Are they needed? Who will benefit? What are the risks? 

We won’t be able to stem the tide of plastic waste until manufacturers are held accountable for their products. 

2021 is shaping up to be the year in which battery storage takes a big step toward being an essential part of the clean energy grid. 

Law and culture are helping us reclaim our deep relationship with nature

"Climate despair does not square with current scientific understandings. We are in trouble, not screwed." 

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. 

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner). 

Check out EcoFriendly Sask’s Nature Companion, a free nature app for Canada’s four western provinces

Thursday 7 January 2021

The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think


The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman disrupts many of our traditional beliefs about birds – their intelligence, how they communicate, and how they interact. 

Their brains may be tiny, but that doesn’t prevent birds from being smart. They just pack more brain cells into a smaller space. A team of research scientists counted the number of neurons in the brains of 28 different bird species of all shapes and sizes. “They found that birds have higher neuron counts in their small brains than do mammals or even primates of similar brain size. . . . This tight arrangement of neurons makes for efficient high-speed sensory and nervous systems. In other words . . . bird brains have the potential to provide much higher cognitive clout per pound than do mammalian brains.” 

Much of the early bird research focused on migratory songbirds in the northern hemisphere, leading us to believe that only male birds sing, primarily to attract a mate. That has proven to be a very incomplete view of avian communication. Approximately 16% of birds, primarily in the tropics, perform male-female duets. What at first take appears to be the song of an individual bird turns out to be a rapid-fire call and response from a male and a female bird: “So impeccable is their timing that canebrake [wrens] answer their mates within sixty milliseconds, around a quarter of the time it takes for a human to chat back.” 

In an Australian park, a tiny spotted pardolate warns his neighbours – both avian and mammal – of danger. The calls often change to indicate different kinds of danger. There are mobbing calls inviting other birds to help chase away a predator and alarm calls urging birds to flee and avoid a threat. The calls can convey detailed information: Is danger from above or below? Is it moving fast or slow? “The chickadee-dee-dee mobbing alarms calls of the black-capped chickadees contain messages – coded in the number of dees at the end of the call – about the size of the predator, and hence, the degree of threat it represents. A great horned owl, too big and clumsy to pose much of a risk to the tiny chickadee, elicits only a few dees, while a small, agile bird of prey such as a merlin or a northern pygmy owl may draw a long string of up to twelve dees.”
Bali myna

Gifted Liars 
Piping plovers will pretend to have a broken wing to draw predators away from their nest, while quails will pretend to be dead. Scrub jays will move – or pretend to move – their food stashes if they know they’re being watched. 

Birds are also amazing mimics. Lyrebirds can sound like dogs barking, the blows of an axe, the hooves of a trotting horse, as well as the calls of other birds. And they switch between sounds quickly: “Two seconds of eastern whipbird, then two seconds of crimson rosella, followed by three seconds of grey shrike thrush.” 

It isn’t easy to imitate a song. You must listen closely, memorize, recall, and practice, adapting your vocal muscles to replicate the song of a different species. So why go to all that effort? It may be to impress a potential mate, but it may also be to deceive and manipulate. There are reports of blue jays mimicking red-tailed hawks and other raptors to startle other birds into dropping their food and providing the jay with a free lunch. Burrowing owls imitate a rattlesnake to stop ground squirrels and other competitors from stealing their burrows. 

A Different Way of Knowing 
The wedge-tailed eagle can see 3 or 4 times further than a human with extra magnification in the centre of its field of view to focus on its prey. Birds also experience an extra dimension of colour as they are able to detect ultraviolet wavelengths. The dense foliage of the rainforest is uniform and flat to human eyes. Not so for birds. “UV light amplifies the contrast between the tops of leaf surfaces and their undersides, so the three-dimensional structure – the position and orientation – of the leaves pop out. This makes it easier for birds to navigate through complex leafy environments and to find food there.” 

Similarly, to humans the ocean appears vast and undifferentiated. But not to seabirds for whom it’s “an elaborate landscape of eddying odor plumes that reflect the oceanographic features and physical processes where phytoplankton predictably amass.” 

Let’s Play! 
Birds love to play. Warblers and pelicans throw pebbles, while green herons toss sticks, leaves, and fish into the air. Rainbow lorikeets swing from tree limbs, while Arabian babblers wrestle and play tug of war and king of the hill. Birds that engage in social play where they interact with each other have a complex social system. Ravens are particularly prone to playing and it starts when they are still in the nest. Play may be preparation for later life. Investigating different objects helps young ravens distinguish what is safe from what is dangerous, while manipulating objects may help them develop their caching skills. Playing together may also promote social bonds, teaching animals how to interact and establishing a hierarchy.
Java sparrow

Good Parent, Bad Parent 
There is no one way to be an avian parent. The brush turkey male works very hard maintaining a huge pile of garden debris, checking the temperature of the fermenting vegetation on a daily basis to make sure it’s at just the right temperature to incubate the eggs buried inside the pile. He also pays attention to the weather, piling the mound up high to help rain to run off and opening the pile up to dry out once the rain stops. 

Leaving your eggs in another bird’s nest may look like the lazy bird approach to parenting, but that’s not necessarily true. Female brood parasites are very picky when choosing nest sites. They want experienced parents with a proven track record and solid nests. Egg laying must coincide with when the host bird is laying her eggs, and eggs must be laid very, very quickly. Each egg is laid in a separate nest so she has to memorize where the nests are located and which ones she’s already used. 

Seers and Omens 
Jennifer Ackerman concludes The Bird Way by a reminder that in ancient Rome “bird-seers were priests, or augurs, who founded their divinations on the flight patterns of birds.” She goes on to suggest that we “would do well to watch birds more, tune in to their usual and unusual behaviors, learn while we can from their marvelous – and still often mysterious – ways of being.” 

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner). 

Check out EcoFriendly Sask’s Nature Companion, a free nature app for Canada’s four western provinces

See Also 

Tuesday 5 January 2021

EcoSask News, January 5, 2020


Upcoming Events 
Decentralized Energy in SK, Jan. 6 (online) 
Join the Energy Management Task Force of Saskatchewan for an online discussion of decentralized energy in Saskatchewan at 7:30 am, Jan. 6. 

Caribou & Wolf Monitoring, Jan. 8 (online) 
Ryan Brook will discuss minimally invasive caribou and wolf monitoring along Hudson Bay at 3:30 pm, Jan. 8, as part of the Wild Ecol Seminar Series. 

Songs 4 Nature, Jan. 8 (online) 
Songs 4 Nature, a Royal Saskatchewan Museum program helping musicians to connect with nature and hone their songwriting skills, will be accepting registrations from SK residents for its virtual winter camp starting Jan. 8. Registration will open to everyone on Jan. 12. 

Get Outside Nature Hike, Jan. 9 (Regina) 
Nature Regina is offering guided nature hikes at A E Wilson Park at 10, 10:30, and 11 am, Jan. 9. Register online

Farmland Drainage & the Environment, Jan. 11-15 (online) 
Don’t miss the second half of the online webinar series on farmland drainage and the environment. The first series of webinars are now available on YouTube

Get Your Kids Outside, Jan. 12 (online) 
Regina library card holders are invited to join a Zoom session on help and inspiration for parents who want to get their kids outdoors at 7 pm, Jan. 12. Spaces are limited; register online

Get Outside! Kids’ Club, Jan. 13/20 (Regina) 
Children ages 6-12 are invited to register for the Get Outside! Kids’ Club from 10 am-3 pm, Jan. 13 or 20

Prussian Carp, Jan. 14 (online) 
There will be a webinar on prussian carp at noon, Jan. 14, as part of the Native Prairie Speaker Series. 

Women & Water, Jan-Apr (online) 
Global Water Futures is offering an online lecture series on women and water: 
12:30 pm, Jan. 14Water Policy

Projet Wet, Jan. 14 (online) 
There will be an online workshop in French on Project Wet from 4-6 pm, Jan. 14. 

Going Outside, Jan. 14 (online, repeat) 
SaskOutdoors is repeating their 30-minute webinar with tips and tricks for teachers who want to move learning outdoors at 8 pm, Jan. 14. 

Saskatoon Nature Society Field Trips 
Saskatoon Young Naturalists 
Jan. 16 – Pike Lake Nature Walk 
Feb. 6 – Chickadee Pishing 

Other Saskatoon Nature Society Field Trips 
Jan. 16, 10-11:30 am – Chorney Acreage Bird Feeders 
Jan. 23, 9 am-3 pm – Snowy Owl Excursion 
Field trips are currently for members only, so sign up now. Advance registration is required. 

 A full list of upcoming events (online and in person) can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

Local News 
A new battery recycling program will make it easier for people in various parts of Saskatchewan to dispose of household batteries responsibly. 

800 acres of mainly native prairie grassland near Weyburn have been donated to the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation’s Habitat Trust Fund.

An Alberta farmer is restoring wetlands, practising agroforestry, and planting cover crops for improved pollination.

Borealis, a new documentary about Canada’s boreal forest, reveals how much trouble it’s in. 

From Information to Action 
“If we bring down CO2 to net zero, the warming will level off. The climate will stabilize within a decade or two. There will be very little to no additional warming.” 

“The only thing a consumer can do to improve their laptop's ecological and economic sustainability is to use it for as long as possible.” 

Even after replacing gasoline vehicles with electric ones, particulate matter resulting from tire, brake, clutch, and road wear remains a significant source of hazardous pollution. 

That’s Amazing! 
Dung beetles navigate by the sun, the moon, and the stars

From monkey-faced spiders to oil spill beetles and a candy corn leafhopper – the beauty and science of our planet's micro creatures.

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. 

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Did you know? Pronghorn are the second-fastest animal in the world with amazing endurance thanks to long legs and a large heart and lungs. They can sprint up to 70 mph.