• Snow bunting © concours photo (Normand Boucher)
    Pic mineur
    • Snow bunting © concours photo (Normand Boucher)
    • Pic mineur
    Helping birds survive the winter

    Written on November 8, 2013 

     

    You have worked all summer to create your bird garden, and you have surely had the chance to see various birds flying around your home. But as the cold weather approaches, how can you help your feathered friends make it through the winter?

    A helping hand

    While the plants in your garden may offer shelter and a source of food for birds, they will probably not be sufficient to feed them throughout the winter. If you live in the countryside, you can put suet cages and feeders full of high-calorie seed mixes in your garden to help them gain the strength and weight they need to brave extreme temperatures. You will find ready-made seed mixes and vegetable-based fat cakes in most pet stores. Or better yet, you can make them yourself using the many recipes available on specialized websites. However, this approach is not recommended in cities such as Greater Montreal, because you risk attracting animals that will scare the birds off or non-native species. Avoid seed mixes as they attract exotic species such as sparrows, starlings and pigeons. Instead, choose unsalted black sunflower seeds.

    A tip that works wherever you live

    Take a log with a minimum diameter of 10 cm and drill a few holes—approximately 3–4 cm in diameter—on one side. Next, drill a small hole at either end of the log to screw in metal rings, then connect them by attaching a string or metal chain. Fill the holes with suet, then hang the log horizontally, with the holes facing downwards.

    Why facing downwards?

    Simply because starlings will have difficulty hanging onto the log to get the suet out. Meanwhile, it will be child’s play to native species such as woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and treecreepers. Check your feeders often to make sure your feathered visitors always have something to eat and clean them regularly to prevent bacteria from taking hold.

    A source of liquid water

    One thing birds need most in wintertime is water. Like all animals, they need to drink water, which can be in short supply during periods of extreme cold. They may have to resort to eating snow to hydrate themselves, but melting it wastes a lot of their energy.
    Making sure that liquid water is accessible in winter is therefore essential. But how?
    There are several solutions, of varying cost, available:

    • Buy a heated birdbath ($$$): Many heated birdbath systems can be found on specialized websites such as lenaturaliste.ca. These will keep the water temperature above the freezing point.
    • Invest in an electric de-icer or build a heating system yourself ($$): Place a 60-watt lightbulb, plugged into a grounded outdoor receptacle, in a flowerpot wrapped in insulation, then place the saucer that came with the flowerpot on top and fill it with water. The heat emitted by the lightbulb will prevent the water from freezing.
    • Change the water in your birdbath regularly ($): Pour hot water (not boiling!) into the birdbath and bring it indoors overnight to prevent it from freezing.

    With any of these methods, you will help birds get through the winter more easily and be in better shape in the spring!
    This article was written in cooperation with Stéphan Deschênes, scientific interpreter at the Biodôme.

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  • Ten of the 40 baby wood turtles, transferred to the Biodôme in September 2018, shortly after hatching in the MFFP laboratories. At this stage, turtles are kept in groups of about 10 individuals, but are separated daily to allow good feeding without intraspecific competition. Fed freely with earthworms cut into small pieces, the goal is to encourage their optimal growth.
    Credit: Biodôme de Montréal (Linda Paetow)
    Dix des 40 bébés tortues des bois
    Close-up view of one of the turtles in Photo 1. Weighing about 10 g upon arrival at the Biodôme, a weight of 260 g is targeted for its eventual release into the wild, where it will one day reach its adult weight of about 1 kg.
    Credit: Biodôme de Montréal (Linda Paetow)
    Vue rapprochée d'une des tortues visibles dans la Photo 1
    One of the 52 wood turtles raised at the Biodôme and released in the wild since 2016.
    Credit: Biodôme de Montréal (Odile Colin)
    Une des 52 tortues des bois élevées au Biodôme et relâchées dans la nature depuis 2016.
    Releases take place after a short acclimation to the new environment, during which turtles are protected from predators and humans.
    Credit: Biodôme de Montréal (Odile Colin)
    Les relâches ont lieu après une courte période d'acclimatation au nouvel environnement, pendant laquelle les tortues sont protégées des prédateurs et des humains.
    A wild adult wood turtle caught for examination and installation of an emitter. The monitoring of individuals by MFFP technicians allows the accumulation of relevant information on the status of the population, threats to it and strategies to adopt to protect it.
    Credit: Biodôme de Montréal (Odile Colin)
    Une tortue des bois adulte sauvage, capturée pour examen et installation d'un émetteur. Le
    • Dix des 40 bébés tortues des bois
    • Vue rapprochée d'une des tortues visibles dans la Photo 1
    • Une des 52 tortues des bois élevées au Biodôme et relâchées dans la nature depuis 2016.
    • Les relâches ont lieu après une courte période d'acclimatation au nouvel environnement, pendant laquelle les tortues sont protégées des prédateurs et des humains.
    • Une tortue des bois adulte sauvage, capturée pour examen et installation d'un émetteur. Le
    Turtle steps towards the protection of a species!

    The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a species that is designated vulnerable in Quebec. Primary threats towards its survival include habitat degradation and destruction, accidental death on roads, the destruction of its nests by predators and the capture of individuals for collection and commercial practices. Since 2014, Montréal Space for Life and the ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) have collaborated on a restoration plan for the species.

    One of nature’s jewels

    In Quebec, there are nine species of turtles, including eight freshwater species and one sea turtle. Among them is the beautiful wood turtle, so-called because the scutes on its brownish carapace form growth rings over the years. Relatively terrestrial and more omnivorous than the others, this turtle, which can measure 24 cm in length, bears hues of orange, yellow and black, making it a true jewel of nature! Inhabiting sinuous rivers and their surroundings, its limited and fragmented distribution renders it vulnerable to a multitude of threats associated with human activities. Fortunately, the wild turtles of Quebec are protected from hunting, capture, captivity and commerce, as described by the Act Respecting the Conservation and Development of Wildlife.

    Nothing grand is achieved without passion(Hegel)

    But since 2014, Montréal Space for Life and the MFFP have conjointly taken additional measures to protect the species. In order to increase the otherwise low survival rate experienced by this turtle in its first year, the MFFP collects eggs laid in nature and incubates them artificially inside its laboratories. Shortly after hatching, the minuscule babies are transferred to the Biodôme, where they are hand-reared and permitted to benefit from veterinary care, for one to two years; just long enough to attain a body weight of 260 g. Before their release close to their nesting sites, each individual is microchipped and some have wireless emitters attached to their carapace, such that the results of the efforts made can be evaluated.

    Despite risks that the turtles could become imprinted on humans, that they may not recognize or escape their predators, or that they do not survive the harsh conditions of winter that they have yet to face, all indicators point to a high survival rate in the years following their release. According to Odile Colin, one of the Biodôme’s animal caretakers, who refined the care protocol for the young turtles, approximately sixty individuals have already been released into nature, and in September of 2019, the Biodôme can expect to receive a new group of 42 babies… there will be no rest for turtle lovers!

    Would you like to participate in research projects involving our local herpetofauna? Learn about the conservation program run by the Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles of Quebec and share your observations!

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  • Gentoo pengun (Pygoscelis papua), Lindblad Cove, Trinity Peninsula, Antarctica
    Credit: Michael S. Nolan - Alamy Stock Photo
    Gentoo pengun (Pygoscelis papua), Lindblad Cove, Trinity Peninsula, Antarctica
    King penguins, South Georgia Island
    Credit: Évelyne Daigle (Biodôme)
    King penguins, South Georgia Island
    Gentoo penguins, South Georgia Island
    Credit: Évelyne Daigle (Biodôme)
    Gentoo penguins, South Georgia Island
    King penguins, South Georgia Island
    Credit: Évelyne Daigle (Biodôme)
    King penguins, South Georgia Island
    Pygoscelis papua (gentoo penguin), Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland
    Credit: Creative Commons
    Pygoscelis papua (gentoo penguin), Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland
    • Gentoo pengun (Pygoscelis papua), Lindblad Cove, Trinity Peninsula, Antarctica
    • King penguins, South Georgia Island
    • Gentoo penguins, South Georgia Island
    • King penguins, South Georgia Island
    • Pygoscelis papua (gentoo penguin), Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland
    Penguins, those birds that think they’re dolphins

    On numerous occasions in the history of life on Earth, land animals have developed, after lengthy evolution, adaptations that allow them to live in the ocean, an environment rich in food. Among those animals are penguins, dolphins and marine turtles, but also many reptilian groups contemporaneous with dinosaurs.

    Why don’t penguins fly?

    The adaptation of birds to a marine habitat happened in different ways. Seabirds don’t necessarily need to resemble chubby torpedoes, like penguins, to be able to travel the seas. Some of them, like the albatross and the gannet, are experts at soaring, permitting them to easily cover hundreds of kilometers a day.

    So then why don’t penguins fly? They’ve lost their capacity for flight, because short, rigid wings are much more effective for swimming fast and chasing down prey that would otherwise be inaccessible: fish, squid and krill. The advantage they get out of it fully compensates for the loss of flight.

    Why must penguins leave the sea to breed?

    Quite simply because they lay eggs that are unable to breathe in the water (amniotic eggs). Penguins have to find land surface to be able to lay and incubate their eggs. As suitable terrain is very rare in the middle of the vast southern ocean, penguins have taken to forming large nesting colonies of breeding birds.

    Why do penguins have an upright posture?

    The penguin could not allow itself, in the course of its evolution, to grow a tail in place of its legs (as was the case with the dolphin), since it has to move about on solid ground. Its legs are moreover very powerful, since the rocky coasts are often steep and swept by strong ocean surges.

    Evolution generated the movement of the legs to the posterior end of the body, at the level of the tail, to serve as a “rudder,” while forward movement is ensured by wings transformed into strong flippers.

    The result of this singular adaptation is one of the penguin’s most notable features: its upright posture. When they walk, they must absolutely remain vertical in order to keep their center of gravity above their feet.

    A side effect of that evolution is our fascination with these birds trotting around in an upright position and looking like little people in white tie and tails.

    Interesting links:

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  • Garlic Mustard in bloom
    Credit: CIME Haut-Richelieu
    Garlic Mustard in bloom
    Invaded woodland
    Credit: CIME Haut-Richelieu
    Invaded woodland
    Dense clump of Garlic Mustard
    Credit: CIME Haut-Richelieu
    Dense clump of Garlic Mustard
    Garlic Mustard pulling to preserve biodiversity
    Credit: CIME Haut-Richelieu
    Garlic Mustard pulling to preserve biodiversity
    Garlic Mustard rosettes (1st year)
    Credit: Biodôme (Andrée Nault)
    Garlic Mustard rosettes (1st year)
    • Garlic Mustard in bloom
    • Invaded woodland
    • Dense clump of Garlic Mustard
    • Garlic Mustard pulling to preserve biodiversity
    • Garlic Mustard rosettes (1st year)
    Garlic Mustard: a little-known invasive species

    To the most prevalent invasive plants – like the formidable common reed, buckthorn and Eurasian watermilfoil – we have to add a new one: Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). This medicinal plant was introduced into our gardens by Europeans, who used it as a condiment because of its garlic taste. Currently in Québec it’s experiencing a significant, but largely unnoticed, expansion. Thanks to its small seeds, produced in abundance, it’s making its way quietly into our maple forests. In just a few years it may come to dominate the forest floor, attacking natural environments that are rich in biodiversity.

    Its secret: a short life cycle

    Garlic Mustard is a biennial plant. It germinates in late April and produces a rosette of leaves that remain green even in winter. At the start of the following spring, the floral stem grows rapidly, sometimes to a length of more than one meter. In optimal conditions, a single plant can produce several floral stems containing a total of over a thousand seeds, which will be scattered along roads and footpaths.

    The biodiversity of our forests under threat

    This species grows in highly diversified conditions, and tolerates shade, which makes it very competitive in a forest environment. A rare phenomenon, the roots of Garlic Mustard produce toxins, glucosinolates, which affect the mycorrhiza in the soil, doing harm to all the neighboring vegetation (herbaceous plants, shrubs, and even tree seedlings). The taste of the Garlic Mustard is unpleasant to deer, and they prefer to graze on native plants, which as a result become sparse, leaving space for Garlic Mustard. Dense colonies of it are quick to form, leading to important changes in the plant composition of the invaded forests.

    The fight against Garlic Mustard: prevention tastes better!

    Garlic Mustard is difficult to eliminate from heavy infested locations where native vegetation is getting scarce. The seedbank can generate new seedlings for more than 10 years, even if all the flowering plants are uprooted every spring. Sustained efforts have to be made, and revegetating must be done. Fortunately, isolated plants are easily removed, preventing the expansion of the species to new sites. Here’s where everyone can make a difference! Keep an eye out: the plant is often observed in ditches, and along roads or trails.

    A Garlic Mustard plant can be pulled up easily, especially in damp soil after it rains. All you need to do is grab the plant at the base and pull: out comes the root, which looks like a little carrot. Put the uprooted plants in black garbage bags and leave them in full sun for a few weeks so that they’re destroyed by the heat (bagging technique). Above all, don’t compost them, or the seeds may return to the soil. Then put the bags out with the trash. In July, when the plants start releasing their seeds, don’t go near them! If you pull them up you risk scattering the hundreds of small seeds quite a distance, swelling the future invasion.

    Collective action to halt the invasion

    In the United States and in Ontario, an important popular movement, The Stewardship Network, was created to check the invasion. In Québec, group action will take place soon in Mount Royal Park and at the Boisé-des-Douze nature reserve in Saint-Hyacinthe. Taking part in a collective activity like these will help you familiarize yourself with the species so that you can protect your particular area. Interested parties, take note: we’re currently putting together bank of volunteers for collective action in Montérégie. To sign up, contact vdeschesnes@cimehautrichelieu.qc.ca.

    Take action!

    1. Learn to recognize Garlic Mustard.
    2. If you spot it, report its presence on the MELCC Sentinelle application (only in French).
    3. Avoid spreading it.
    4. Be part of a collective Garlic Mustard pulling activity.
    5. Share this information with all your friends!

    2019 Garlic Mustard pulling dates:

    • Mid-May to mid-June: Montérégie, CIME Haut-Richelieu (volunteer bank)
    • June 15: Mount Royal Park, Montréal
    • June 19: Boisé-des-Douze, Sainte-Hyacinthe

    References:

    • Anderson, H. 2012. Invasive Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata): Best Management Practices in Ontario. Ontario Invasive Plant Council. 30p.
    • Lavoie, C. 2019. 50 plantes envahissantes: protéger la nature et l’agriculture. Les publications du Québec. 415p.
    • Nuzzo, V. 1999. “Invasion pattern of the herb garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in high quality forests.” Biological Invasions 1: 169-179.
    • Pardini, E.A., Drake, J.M., Chase, J.M. and Knight, T.M. 2009. “Complex population dynamics and control of the invasive biennial Alliaria petiolata.” Ecological Applications 19(2): 387-397.
    • Rodgers, V.L., Stinson, K.A. and Finzi, A.C. 2008. “Ready or not, Garlic Mustard is moving in: Alliaria petiolata as a member of Eastern North American forests.” Bioscience 58(5): 426-436.

    Useful links :

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  • Pseudacris triseriata
    Credit: Biodôme de Montréal
    Pseudacris triseriata
    Pseudacris triseriata
    Credit: Space for Life (Claude Lafond)
    Pseudacris triseriata
    • Pseudacris triseriata
    • Pseudacris triseriata
    The striped chorus frog: a species to protect

    What is that frog that regularly makes headlines in the Montréal area – the striped chorus frog? It’s a tiny frog less than four centimeters long whose fingers are equipped with little suckers.

    In winter, during hibernation, blood circulation and respiration are slowed down as much as possible. An antifreeze prevents the striped chorus frog’s cells from bursting. It’s only when temperatures go up in the spring that those vital functions get back to normal.

    Another surprising fact, when the flooded clearings and fields in Montérégie are sometimes still dotted with patches of snow, you can already hear the piercing cries sent out by the male striped chorus frog – a noise similar to the one made by a fingernail running over the teeth of a comb. That song serves to attract females, and signals the start of the breeding season.

    Conquering the female from behind

    During this period the males come out of their torpor, grow aggressive, and fight among themselves to earn the favors of a female. Attaching himself to the back of his new partner, the dominant male fends off his rivals with the help of his rear legs. Occasionally, life being difficult, he’ll lose his spot to a more aggressive male. When the female feels ready she lays her eggs, which the male fertilizes immediately.

    Vulnerable little frog

    Previously abundant in almost all of Montérégie, the striped chorus frog today has become very rare. Moreover, because of its small size, it often passes unnoticed except when it sings in the spring. How do we explain the population, still considerable 50 or so years ago in Québec, being so small now? Destruction of its habitat is largely responsible for the decline. Urban sprawl and intensive agriculture are also to blame. What makes the situation even more serious is that the only populations of striped chorus frogs known at this time are for the most part isolated from one another and consist of very few individuals.

    In 2018 a number of scientific studies demonstrated that since the 1970s human beings have been responsible for the disappearance of at least 60 percent of animal and plant diversity on a global scale. Does the presence of a species as small as the striped chorus frog warrant our going to great lengths to protect it? To what point can we carry on neglecting biodiversity, as we’ve been doing for far too long?

    It must be remembered that any new species extinction accelerates the loss of biodiversity on a worldwide scale. No species is without purpose. All have their importance. Small though it is, the striped chorus frog plays a key role in the food chain. Which is why it is essential to keep on protecting the forests and fields that make up its habitat.

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