Lafarge Canada | Bonding over Birds – How a Popular Avian Awareness Event Benefits Science and the Community

Lafarge Canada

A saw-whet owl at night

It all started with a pair of eagles. In the late 2000s, employees at the Drayton Valley Aggregates – Berrymoor Pit observed bald eagles nesting on-site, sparking an interest in enhancing habitat for these birds with an artificial raptor perch. Not long after, with the help of biologists from STRIX Ecological Consultants, Lafarge Canada initiated a small, well-designed conservation program that has blossomed into a comprehensive initiative that benefits raptors and other species.

Kestrel chicks

The Berrymoor Pit is located in central Alberta, Canada, along the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River. The property is used primarily for mining of sand and gravel and features a variety of natural and reclaimed habitats, including deciduous forest, mixed deciduous-coniferous forest, grasslands, shrublands, riparian zones and wetlands.

Ten years after that bald eagle sighting, the program’s main focus is on management for two raptor species, the northern saw-whet owl and the American kestrel, both of which were observed during baseline surveys conducted in 2010-2011 and are now regularly seen on-site. Nest boxes that were installed for both species are rarely utilized by the owls, but the kestrels have used the nest boxes with increasing frequency, with 53 chicks hatched in 2018. Nest cameras installed just outside some of the kestrel box entrances have contributed greatly to the team’s understanding of kestrel behavior, such as their preference for catching grasshoppers (as well as the occasional wood frog and sparrow) to feed their young. When possible, kestrel chicks are also banded by a licensed bird bander, offering an additional source of data that can assist in avian conservation.

One of the most popular community activities at the site is the annual saw-whet owl banding event.

Each fall during the birds’ migration period, employees, their families, and community members are invited to observe the capture, banding, and release of saw-whet owls, which Lafarge Canada team member Bill Gowdy describes as “tiny little guys, about the size of a pop can and cute as a button.” Banding of owls and kestrels contributes to broader scientific research about the movement patterns and life spans of these two species.

The owls are captured using mist-nets and they are weighed, measured, and aged. A UV light reveals the level of pigmentation in wing feathers, with older birds having less-pigmented feathers. The birds are either banded, or the information from their existing bands is recorded. When released, the owls don’t always fly away right away. Instead, sometimes they land on the ground or nearby vegetation, or in one case, landed on a young girl’s head and just sat there “like a parrot” for several minutes.

Participants also participate in owl-themed activities and crafts, as well as supervised interaction with the owls. When reflecting on the success of the event, Gowdy noted the value of employees’ enthusiasm for the projects in engaging the community:

“We just have a lot of fun with it, and when you do things like the banding event, it really connects you with the public and puts a more human face to your activities.”

In addition to raptors, Lafarge Canada also monitors amphibians and mammals on-site, using techniques such as game cameras, frog call surveys and tadpole counts. Several frog species and over 17 mammals such as coyotes, elk and moose have been documented through these methods. These observations, as well as the owl and kestrel monitoring efforts, provide valuable data on these species’ population trends and migration and breeding patterns over time.

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Quick Facts

Site Name:Berrymoor Pit
Categories:Avian, Awareness and Community Engagement, Education & Awareness, Forest, Grasslands, Wetlands
Company Name:Lafarge Canada
Site Location:Alberta, Canada
Partner:STRIX Ecological Consultants
Project Type:Avian
Certification Since:2010
Certification Level:Gold Certified
WHC Index Link:Search for project

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