Episode 149 – Bird Nerds

On this episode, our correspondent, Scott Lilwall, takes us to the 2nd oldest migration monitoring observatory in Canada: the Beaverhill Bird Observatory (BBO).

BBO was established in 1984 and has gathered decades of datasets that help them track changes in bird populations and how they migrate. And they boast several programs to encourage education, research, and community knowledge. Programs like the Young Ornithologists Workshop!

BBO is  an Important Bird Area. It is an Internationally Significant Wetland, and it is a space where we can all share knowledge and appreciation for Alberta’s natural history.

To help continue their work far into the future, BBO has established the Beaverhill Bird Observatory Endowment Fund here at Edmonton Community Foundation.

Visit the Beaverhill Bird Observatory!
Check out their Young Ornithologist Workshop and other programs.
Learn more about the Beaverhill Bird Observatory Endowment Fund.
Find out how to create an Endowment Fund of your own.

ECF Happenings:
Read the latest on our blog.
See how ECF connects you with Edmonton’s community.
Check out some of the amazing funds our donors have created.
ECF Grants:
* Click here to see all ECF Grants.

Upcoming Student Awards:
* Click here to find details for all of our student awards!

The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation.

Image for this episode is by Scott Lilwall.

Transcripts by Karli Drew.


[The Well Endowed Podcast theme music plays]

Shereen Zink [00:00:25] Hello everybody and welcome to ECF’s Well Endowed Podcast. I’m Shereen Zink—

Graeme Lummer [00:00:29] And I’m...

Graeme Lummer. Our city is full of generous donors who have created endowment funds at Edmonton Community Foundation.

Shereen [00:00:36] These funds are carefully stewarded to generate money that supports charities in Edmonton and beyond.

Graeme [00:00:40] On this podcast, we share stories about how these funds help strengthen our community… because it’s good to be well endowed.

Shereen [00:00:47] Hey Graeme, do you have a favourite bird?

Graeme [00:00:49] I think it’s gotta be a Parrott because they can talk and that just about, you know, puts them head and shoulders above everyone else in the birding world.

Shereen [00:00:57] That’s fair, that’s fair.

Graeme [00:00:58] What about you?

Shereen [00:00:59] Uh, I’m partial to Magpies. I think they’re hilarious. I think they’re very pretty and I just… I love seeing them around the city. I’ve heard that, um, there are, like, some traditions where every time you see a Magpie, you’re supposed to say hello to it. So even in my head, I say hello to the Magpies every time I see them.

Graeme [00:01:16] I know it’s not so much of a problem here, but in Australia, there’s actually a Magpie birdwatch program where you identify where there are swooping Magpies because they’re actually a problem and a hazard to pedestrians and children and the like. [Shereen laughs] So I think the ones here are a little more, uh, calm— [Shereen: Yes, we have friendly magpies] Less aggressive.

Yeah. So, uh, thank goodness for that.

[both laugh]

Shereen [00:01:36] Love our Magpies here.

Well, on this episode, we’re gonna head over to the Beaverhill Bird Observatory and we’re gonna meet some of the wonderful biologists who work there.

Graeme [00:01:45] They are wonderful. The Beaverhill Bird Observatory, or BBO for short, was established in 1984. It is the second oldest migration monitoring observatory in Canada.

Shereen [00:01:54] Yeah, they’ve got decades of data sets that help them track the changes in bird populations and, uh, help identify how they migrate.

Graeme [00:02:00] They also run a ton of programs to encourage education, research, and community knowledge.

Shereen [00:02:04] So BBO is more than an important bird area. It’s a space where we can share knowledge and appreciation for Alberta’s natural history.

[The Well Endowed Podcast jingle plays in background]

Graeme [00:02:11] Our correspondent, Scott Lilwall, takes us to the Observatory to hear the birdsong and find out more about what BBO has to offer.

[birds chirping in background throughout episode]

Scott Lilwall [00:02:18] There’s a secluded little spot just a few kilometers outside of Tofield. It’s a small patch of forest tucked in between Beaverhill Lake and Lister Lake. Here, a handful of trails snake through the woods with names like Robin’s Route, Duck Drive, and Warbler’s Way. It’s quiet here and sometimes you think it’s just you and the Chickadees, but if you head down a trail marked Weasel Wind for about a hundred meters, you’ll see something surprising. A new-ish-looking building, two stories tall and made of light brown wood with a communications tower standing guard above it. This… is the Beaverhill Bird Observatory and it’s a place for some serious bird nerds.

Heading up the stairs, and inside the building, there’s a large room. On the left hand side, a wooden counter sits, covered in scales, papers, and other equipment. Through a door on the other side of the room, the Observatory staff are collected in a small kitchen, taking a break after a hard morning of work.

[laughter and indistinct chatter from staff]

Scott [00:03:31] And just past that group, there’s a curious Brown Owl peering through a screened window. That’s Nina, the Observatory’s annual ambassador-in-training. It’s in this kitchen where I first meet Geoff.

Geoff Holroyd [00:03:42] Uh, my name’s Geoff Holroyd. I am chairman of the Beaverhill Bird Observatory. I co-founded the Bird Observatory in ‘84 when I first moved to Edmonton and we, um, styled the Bird Observatory after my teenage years at Long Point— uh, Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario. The… the objective of the Bird Observatory is to do research, but not do it away from the public eye. I’ve done— I worked as a research scientist for 36 years for the Canadian Wildlife Service and realized that all the research I was doing didn’t save wildlife unless there was a public component, an educational component. So the idea of the Bird Observatory is we’re educating the public by showing them how we do science, how we do the bird banding and the studies of birds in the hopes that they will then care and take that information home and change their behaviour that benefits the environment. Whether it’s supporting nonprofit groups, looking at their climate change impacts, their carbon, um, footprints, et cetera.

Scott [00:04:41] Now, if you spend more than a few minutes talking to Geoff or anyone else at Beaverhills, you learn one thing. Everyone here is [emphasized] very into birds. For Geoff, that’s been a lifelong passion, one that came from an unlikely place… when he was a child in England, recovering from surgery for tuberculosis.

Geoff [00:04:59] I was just sitting there in this, um, uh, hospital atrium looking out, waiting for my neck to heal from the operation to remove a tuberculosis gland. And, um, the bird just kept going back and forth. And maybe part of the mystery was, “What is he collecting?” And part of the mystery was, “Where’s he going?” But it was a European Robin busy gathering food, um, for his nestlings. And… and that got me hooked on birds. And there’s lots of people that relate to an incident around the age of 10— 8 to 12 years old where they saw something and that grabbed their interest and they never turned back. So it’s trying to capture that, uh, age group and capture that moment, and then hopefully it turns into a lifetime of— well, they don’t have to be a bird watcher their lifetime, but it’s a… a lifetime of environmental consciousness that they’re aware of what their lifestyle is doing to the environment.

Scott [00:05:53] That experience had a big impact on the work that the team at the Bird Observatory does. Geoff says that many children in England grew up with a strong tradition of conservation, something that isn’t as prevalent in Canada. This Observatory is designed to give people an immersive, hands-on experience with nature in hopes of building that strong personal connection.

Geoff [00:06:13] Well, yeah. I think one of the differences in, um… in North America is a lot of our population is very urban. So people can watch a TV show, but it’s not real. It’s just something that they watch on tv. Whether it’s a fiction, you know, about, um, dragon slayers or, um, or a… a David Suzuki or whatever nature show. But when they come out here and see nature in the real, they see a Saw-whet Owl, uh, we’ll take a-a-a kid— a child and, um, put the owl upside down, or the Least Flycatcher upside down on their hand. And the bird sits there momentarily and then flips over and flies away to actually get that tactile feeling of how soft a bird is, uh, that, you know, personal experience with a bird, that— and… and the pictures that go with it that they don’t forget.

Scott [00:06:59] That hands-on experience often means helping the Observatory’s biologists with bird banding. That’s where they attach ID bracelets to the birds so they can be monitored. And when it comes to banding birds, you start early… like “just before sunrise” early. Step one is to capture some birds.

Jon Van Arragon is the Observatory’s assistant biologist. He’s opening the mist nets that they use to catch small birds. The nets look sort of like extra long volleyball nets stretched out between the trees and the mesh is very thin, thin enough that birds in flight can’t see it. So the birds fly into the net, which drops them harmlessly into a small pocket that’s built within.

Jon Van Arragon [00:07:44] And then they’ll just hangout there, kind of like sitting in a hammock. Then every half an hour, we’re checking the nets so birds aren’t caught in there for too long. And then we’ll gently untangle them like a little string puzzle. And then we actually put them into a little cloth bag just to keep them nice and calm while transporting them from the nets back to the banding station.

Scott [00:08:03] As they roll the net back up, Jon reveals a little secret about working at the Observatory. Birds can be crafty creatures. So everything here has to be bird proofed, even the nets.

Jon [00:08:14] And we actually have to tie these nets— these ties in a very specific way because there’s a bird around here called a Baltimore Oriole. And these birds build a weaved basket for their nest. And Baltimore Orioles love to steal anything fibrous or stringy that they can use for their nest, which includes net ties. I think there was a bit of debate about why net ties kept going missing with some of the previous staff, and then they saw one of those birds taking off with one. So that’s why we have to tie them like this instead of using something nicer like a slipknot.

Scott [00:08:46] Once the nets are secure, the birds are brought into the main building to that counter I mentioned earlier. The first step is to weigh the bird still in the bag and record the data.

Jon [00:08:57] We have a… adorable Least Flycatcher here and the weight is going to be 9.1 grams. Now the first thing we are going to do—

[fade out dialogue]

Scott [00:09:07] When volunteers first start with the Observatory, they can help with data entry, writing down measurement, and other tasks. When they have enough practice and experience, they’ll graduate to actually handling the birds and extracting them from the net. Once weighed, it’s time for the bird to get their band. Sitting on the counter is a small wooden box with numbered band of different sizes. Everything from a tiny wire for the smallest songbird to thicker bands that could fit over your finger designed for large owls. The band is applied with special pliers that keep from injuring the bird. Now every band has a number attached to it, which isn’t repeated anywhere else in North America.

[fade back in dialogue]

Jon [00:09:42] So I’ll restrain the leg by the joint and put the band on. And now this bird will be banded for the rest of its life. So if it’s captured anywhere far away, whether that’s in another banding station in Alberta or all the way in Guatemala, that number can be traced back to this Observatory so we’ll be able to know where they’re migrating to and from. So next off, we are going to take a—

[fade out dialogue]

Scott [00:10:06] Once the bird is banded, they take a whole bunch of measurements. The bird’s tail feathers are measured, which gives them an idea of how old it is. They also take a look at the condition of the flight feathers to determine their health. And then, of course, it’s time to… blow on the bird.

[fade back in dialogue]

Jon [00:10:21] [blowing] Zero, zero, c, b, b, p. [blowing] So that is what I do to look for breeding characteristics. As well, we can actually see how much fat the bird has. Birds have super thin skin that’s actually transparent so if I blow on the bird’s throat, I can look at how much orange-y colouration I see under there. And that lets us assess the bird’s physical condition. Now that we’ve taken all these measurements, we are going to release this bird out of this handy release hatch, and hopefully it will get caught somewhere else far away.

Scott [00:10:58] The Observatory does bird banding from May to October. Some days they might capture a handful. Others, it can be dozens. And over the course of the year, that adds up to a lot of birds.

Jana Teefy [00:11:11] So we can get around 370 species. My name is Jana, uh, Teefy. I am the head biologist of the Beaverhill Bird Observatory. What we catch, uh— Well, ’cause we target songbirds. So we actually catch— Last year we got 79? 79 species is what we caught and banded for just our fall program.

Scott [00:11:29] Jana explains that the Observatory’s location was picked very carefully. Not only is it in the middle of a heavily treed area, but its spot near the water makes it an excellent place to find all kinds of birds.

Jana [00:11:41] There’s a lot of birds out here. And so, we’re on the south shore of Beaverhill Lake. A lot of our songbirds when they’re migrating, don’t like to go over open water, so they actually funnel around the lake, which is where our nets are set up. So we… we catch a lot of birds and, uh, we just have a huge, uh, variety of birds here. Whether it be the songbirds that we’re catching, we get quite a few owls in the fall, but also shorebirds. So we’re on the shore, as I said, of Beaverhill Lake as well as Lister Lake. We have a weir that, um, has a lot of shallow areas. So we… we get, uh, a fair amount of, uh, fun shorebirds. Ducks, um, geese. We have a lot of geese that stage here in the spring and the fall for their migration. So we actually run every— well, this year is the first year in what, 20 years that we run the Snow Goose Festival. And, um, because our lake is returning, the water levels are rising, the geese are returning, um, on their migration and staging here for, um, a little while. So we get [emphasized] huge flocks of like 20,000 Snow Geese. Yeah, yeah. It’s quite the… quite the sound.

Scott [00:12:39] While the focus is on banding songbirds and owls, the Observatory helps study other wildlife in the area. As Jana mentioned, some of their staff do surveys to count species of birds that live on the shore or in marshes. She mentioned they also have an intern that’s working on a project monitoring bats, which are endangered in Alberta. They also have set up trail cameras to track other animals, such as rabbit and moose. Monitoring bird populations is an important part of protecting them. Jana explains that bird populations have dropped about 30% worldwide over the past two decades. Some of the hardest hit are what are called “aerial insectivores”, birds that mainly eat bugs caught while in flight. Jana says their populations are down by about 90%, mostly due to a lack of food.

Jana [00:13:22] Um, a lot of, um, farmers around the area use insecticides on their crops, which actually is called a neonicotinoid is the newest one that they’re using. They actually will leach into the water bodies, kill off a lot of our, uh, insects in the water. They— A lot of them have a portion of their lifecycle in the water before they emerge as adults for our insectivores to eat. And it kills them at that level. So there’s no adults emerging and there’s no food for our, uh, birds like our Purple Martins and our Tree Swallows. Yeah. So their populations are, uh, plummeting because of insecticide use.

Scott [00:13:56] Both Jana and Jon don’t just share Geoff’s beliefs that the Observatory can help people make deep connections with nature, they’re proof of it. Jana started as a volunteer, an experience she says changed her life. It prompted her to get a diploma in wildlife conservation, eventually getting hired on at the Observatory. Jon’s first taste of bird nerdery happened while his scout troop came to help band birds. He enjoyed it so much, he took part in other programs and volunteered. And, as he put it, they eventually realized they weren’t gonna get rid of him so they hired him on as an assistant biologist. Both of them are keen on giving other people the same experience that they had.

Jana [00:14:32] I mean, you know, to volunteer out here is… it’s special and, um, it-it can impact people’s… people’s lives. And, um, even their… their connection with nature and their, um, kind of after effects and things that they do in, life— in their lives. Like as… as Geoff said, um, talking about, um… talking about conservation and things that we can do to protect our birds can then impact, um, them and then people they talk to. So they… they can, uh, make suggestions on, like, “Hey, maybe don’t use Saran Wrap for that. Why don’t you use some Bee’s Wrap?” An-and, um, it can kind of… kind of escalate an-and, um, by getting people involved with nature and getting them kind of in love with nature again, that, um, passion can be transferred onto other people.

Scott [00:15:19] But not all their work happens out in the field. In the winter, the Observatory hits the road with a program called Bird Smart.

Jon [00:15:26] We go into classrooms to teach kids about birds, climate change, and conservation. And each one of these presentations is tailored to match the Alberta curriculum so we’re covering content that our teachers are going to have to go over at some point anyways. And to really reinforce the learning and to bring that really special… element, we bring with us one of our live educational birds of prey. So, you’re always the coolest person in a room when you bring a Peregrine Falcon to a room full of grade six kids. And it really makes it so special for the kids. And that really hopefully helps that when I say by turning off lights when we’re not in the room and by doing all these small everyday things we can help birds. Seeing the bird in front of them really helps drive that home and makes it that much more tangible.

Scott [00:16:19] Geoff points out that this all costs money. Paying staff, buying and maintaining equipment, and building facilities. A lot of the work is done by their member volunteers who pay a one-time membership fee of $10 to support the Observatory. They also receive some research funding, but also rely heavily on donations from people and organizations.

Geoff [00:16:38] So I-I think it’s worth adding that our most, uh, common activity here is banding birds. But nobody pays us to band birds, they pay us to educate the public. And, um… and that’s our goal. And we’re happy to do that, but we’re educating them by banding birds. So that ends up being our… our main activity if we’re not paid to do it.

Scott [00:16:59] He says the past few years have shown how precarious that can be. Many of the Observatory’s activities had to change during the COVID pandemic. With schools going virtual, their visits were put on hold and restrictions meant they had to cancel events and limit the number of staff and volunteers that could be at a banding station at the same time. With less of that public education going on, some organizations reduced or even stopped their funding.

Luckily, Geoff says they were able to rely on others for support, including the Edmonton Community Foundation. Some of that help came in the form of an endowment fund set up by the ECF. They managed the endowment, investing the money and providing the interest back to the Observatory as reliable, stable funding. When Beaverhill’s partnered with the ECF 5 years ago, Geoff immediately saw the benefit the endowment fund offered. ECF also offers matching donations to help grow the fund. So Geoff set up his own donation doubling plan. Members would donate money, which would be matched by both him and the Observatory’s board. Then that money would be matched again by ECF. That allowed them to grow the endowment to a hundred thousand dollars in the first year. And it’s only continued from there.

Geoff [00:18:05] So now the funding that we get from our endowment fund is in the order of $16,000. Well, that’s enough to hire, uh, one of our summer employees for the season. And especially if we can get grants from the federal government— ECO Canada’s student hiring program, then it’s actually enough for two people plus the funding we get from the federal government. So that’s pretty huge when we have four or five staff for the summer to have two of them with guaranteed funding before we even start the year ’cause we— You know, it’s like a lot of nonprofits, we start the year with zero funding and all these funding commitments. And we hope by the end of the year, we’ve raised enough money to pay for everything that we’re spending through the year.

Um, so having that secure funding, right now we have over $400,000 in our endowment fund. So that’s just huge. And our— my personal goal is to get to a million, um, but I’ll be happy this year we’ll, uh, pass half a million. So doing that in five years is pretty amazing and, um, we’ll just keep… keep going. The ECF were also instrumental. We got the money for the building together, but had no furnishings. And ECF gave us a grant to do the furnishings.

Scott [00:19:15] In 2020, the ECF awarded the Observatory with an environmental operating grant. This grant helps fund operational expenses for groups in Northern Alberta working in environmental protection and conservation. Geoff says that grant was vital in allowing the Observatory to continue its work and research.

Geoff [00:19:31] And then with the down— um, downsizing of the, uh, result of the pandemic, ECF then also stepped up and gave us a three-year operating grant. So we can main our— maintain our staff levels and our public activities, and especially Bird Smart. And we didn’t have to cut back on those because of lack of funding, so ECF have been quite critical in our growth over the last five years.

Scott [00:19:54] The ECF support doesn’t just help Beaverhill’s continuous research, it’s also important for growing the next generation of conservationists. The Observatory’s internship programs offer students the rare opportunity to experience field work hands-on.

Jana [00:20:08] So it’s really hard for a lot of students. Um, especially university students don’t get a ton of field work experience. Um, so when they come out here in the internships, it’s fully submersed field work. They’re out, uh, in the grassland with the mosquitoes and surveying our, um, Tree Swallows and our house friends as well as our butterfly interns are out there with their nets trying to catch and ID any, uh, butterflies or moss that they see. Um, trying to think— Oh, the bats, the bat interns come out at night and, uh, they get to experience the glory of BBO at nighttime. So the— that field work and then that publication is, uh… is a benefit for them as well. It’s a… it’s a really good resume boost for them. Um, publications are— they’re a big deal in the kind of academic world so getting… getting experience in writing papers and, uh, they get published on our website. We send them out to our membership as well as on our, uh, social media. And it’s… um, it’s a benefit to have publications and get your name out there, uh, and have a publication on your resume before you even start other jobs.

Scott [00:21:14] And even before post-secondary, Beaverhill’s is looking to instill that love of conservation. They’re currently holding their Young Ornithologists program, which gives high school students a taste of what it’s like to do conservation science.

Jana [00:21:26] Yeah. The Young Ornithologists program is this wonderful program. It’s a free, uh, workshop for youth between 15 and 18 years old. And they come out, they camp on site, they stay here for a week, and they learn how to be a biologist. Uh, they’re in the thick of it. They come out, they… they stay in their tents. They wake up at, uh, ridiculous morning hours with us. So our nets open a half an hour before sunrise. So this morning it was 5:30, uh, in the dead of summer it’s, like, 4:30. But, um, they stay open for six hours. So they band with us for six hours. They learn to scribe first and then hold the birds. They learn to band them and do all the measurements, aging and sexing them. And then they learn to extract them to take them outta nets. And, um, so they’re, again, fully submersed.

[00:22:09] But then when we are closed for the morning, close the nets, have some lunch, and then we take them out and do, uh, all sorts of wildlife surveys with them. So they do pond dipping, looking for aquatic invertebrates in the lake. They do a big birding day. They go out to the local falconry and they get to do a tour there as well as a duck release with Wild North. Young Ornithologists program is… is wonderful. It’s— It gives, uh, youth a chance to… to come out and just, like, be a biologist an-and gives them a chance to see like, “Do I wanna do this as a career?” Like, “Can I do this for… for the rest of my life?” kind of thing. And most of them are pretty keen. Yeah, we get some pretty good young birders out there. We get people all the time that ask us like, “Hey, do you run a, uh, adult version of that?” And we don’t, but that’s what our volunteer program is for [laughs] so…

Scott [00:22:55] In Geoff’s mind, it’s these youth-centered programs, like Bird Smart or the Young Ornithologists, that have the greatest potential to make a big change in the way that we relate to the natural world around us.

Geoff [00:23:08] And if we can convince the small children to, um, do conservation when they are then the, uh… the adults running the world, then that’s a real opportunity. You know, without being too pessimistic, it’s too late for most people my age, we’re just not gonna change their… their behavior, but hopefully the children will be more responsible. And we see that with the young people that we hire here that we have as interns, that we have as Young Ornithologists. They’re kids that are very concerned about the environment. Some of them don’t have a car. Some of the older ones have decided they’re not having kids. There are huge, um, personal commitments they’re making to try and reduce their impact on the environment.

[birds chirping]

Shereen [00:23:46] Thank you to Scott Lilwall for bringing us this story. And thanks to our guests from Beaverhill Bird Observatory: Jana Teefy, head biologist, Jon Van Arragon, assistant biologist, and Geoff Holroyd, chair of their Board of Directors.

Graeme [00:24:03] Listeners, you can head over to our show notes to find links to Beaverhill Bird Observatory, to their excellent programs, and to find out more about their endowment fund.

Shereen [00:24:10] And of course, we’ll have links to ECF’s grants and student awards there, and you can visit our blog for even more great community stories.

[The Well Endowed Podcast music plays in background of outro]

Graeme [00:24:16] Well, that brings us to the end of the show. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

Shereen [00:24:20] Yeah, thank you. If you enjoyed it, please share it with all the bird nerds and citizen scientists that you know.

Graeme [00:24:25] If you have time, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It’s a great way to support our show.

Shereen [00:24:29] And come visit us on Facebook where you can share your thoughts and see some pictures.

Graeme [00:24:33] Thanks again for tuning in. We’ve been your hosts, Graeme Lummer—

Shereen [00:24:36] And Shereen Zink.

Graeme and Shereen [00:24:37] Until next time!

Andrew Paul [00:24:41] The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation—

Lisa Pruden [00:24:45] And is an affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Andrew [00:24:47] This episode was edited by Lisa Pruden.

Lisa [00:24:50] You can visit our website at TheWellEndowedPodcast.com.

Andrew [00:24:53] Subscribe to us on iTunes—

Lisa [00:24:55] And follow us on Twitter at @theECF.

Andrew [00:24:58] Our theme music is by Octavo Productions.

Lisa [00:25:00] And as always, don’t forget to visit Edmonton Community Foundation at ecfoundation.org.

[birds chirping]

Jana [00:25:10] And people think I’m crazy. I think most bird banders in the world do not like Chickadees, but Chickadees are my absolute favourite bird. And, um, they’re quite feisty. Uh, they’re quite fierce. We— They’re little balls of fury. So when you are handling them, trying to get them out of a net, they will target any weakness you have. So they’ll, like, pick at your cuticles. If you have a scab, they’ll peel that off. Like, sometimes they make you bleed and… they’re just so fierce. But I still love them. I loved them before I started working here and their personality makes me love them even more.

Jon [00:25:42] Yeah, I’ve got a few, but I think the favourite would have to be the Bohemian Waxwing. So they are a bird that comes here in the winter and they have a beautiful crest with waxy tips. These red waxy substances on the tips of their feathers that they get from their diet. And these Bohemian Waxwings travel in huge flocks and they eat berries. One funny thing is that because they come here in the winter, some of those berries are a little fermented and they can actually get a little drunk or tipsy off eating these fermented berries. So if you ever see a colourful bird sort of flying not quite straight in the winter, that bird’s probably just had a little too much to drink. But they are just, to me, one of the most strikingly beautiful birds you will see anywhere in the world.

Geoff [00:26:30] Yeah. People ask me about whether I have a favourite bird or not. I did my graduate studies on the diet of Swallows. Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, Bank Swallow, Purple Martin, and Eastern Kingbirds. And I love all of them. I spent over 25 years as chair of the Canadian Peregrine Falcon Recovery Team. I think Peregrines are totally cool. Uh, we did a couple of studies of Prairie Falcons, which are also amazing. And the last, uh, 20 years overlapping with Peregrines, I studied Burrowing Owls that go down to Mexico for the winter, and I think they’re totally cool. So I-I just, um, can’t pick one favourite. I think birds are totally cool. I think it’s totally cool that we now know they’re actually, uh, derived from dinosaurs.

[birds chirping]

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