Southwest Saskatchewan is not known for its trees. In fact, it is known for its lack of trees. This does not mean we don’t have birds though. We actually have a wide range of prairie birds from the larger golden eagle, snowy and horned owls and ferruginous hawk that like high perches; to ducks and small songbirds that have their nests on the open prairie. In about 2000, a bird watcher, Gustave Yaki from Calgary came one weekend in the spring and counted over 90 species in one day in the local area.
To support the bird population 25 years ago nesting platforms were put up in 3 locations. For many years they sat empty but now one is used regularly by a pair of ferruginous hawks and the other has been used occasionally.
This spring a local songbird enthusiast built bird boxes for Tree Swallows that live along the river. He put up 6 boxes and 4 are already being used!
Jon McCraken, a biologist and national director of Bird Studies Canada, states “For grassland birds, the biggest issue has been the loss of grassland, whether native prairie, rangeland or hayfields. If it weren’t for the cattle industry, we’d have lost many of these threatened species already.” The cattle themselves have become an integral part of healthy grassland ecosystems, which evolved under the presence of grazers such as bison. Cattle now provide the disturbance necessary to drive ecological cycles and support biodiversity.
Some ideas work well, some take time and others may never pan out as planned. But we continue to look for ways to support the local wildlife on the short grass prairie.