Brant geese in flight along the coastline. Photo submitted.

Brant geese in flight along the coastline. Photo submitted.

MARS moment: Keep dogs off the beaches in the springtime

Submitted by Jane Sproull Thomson

Special to Black Press

Spring – the best of times and the worst of times for our wildlife!

As for people who love the advent of spring, birds also relish the coming months. Like people, they are driven by the need for food and sex. A flush of new growth enlivens both land and sea and most birds time their reproduction to take advantage of rich food opportunities.

Along with the fresh vegetation, herring come close to our beaches to spawn in early spring and draw hundreds of thousands of birds here to fill their fuel requirements for migration onward to northern breeding areas. Resident birds also depend on the riches of this time of year.

Why is this then also the worst of times for birds on our shores? In one word: dogs.

A dog simply running along the beach is enough to scare some birds off their feeding even if it is not deliberately chasing them, because foxes and wolves are natural enemies and they are adapted to escape when they see a similar animal.

Brant geese stop along the beaches south of the Comox Valley to replenish their fat reserves for the final leg of their migration to the Arctic. Photo submitted

The beautiful Brant geese

Brant geese are beautiful, blue-listed (of special concern) birds that stop along the beaches south of the Comox Valley for only a week or two after their non-stop flight from Mexico. Here they replenish their fat reserves for the final leg of their migration to the Arctic, where they will make down-lined nests and raise their young. While here they need to eat constantly and if frightened, they cannot. They then may not be able to migrate and some will starve to death.

Please keep your dogs off the beaches from March until mid-July and give the birds and other wildlife a chance. There are a few beaches in our area that permit dogs at other times, but even on those, please always keep the dog under control. Never let your dog chase birds; they are on the beach to get the food they need to live!

To feed their young, bald eagle and great blue heron parents rely heavily on plainfin midshipman fish that are available only during extreme low tides in May and June. The limited foraging is available for only short periods so harassment from dogs and people can mean starvation for these chicks. Try to give the busy parents the space they need.

Hold off on hedge trimming

Ah, spring! We are anxious to get out in the garden, but as our hummingbirds are now nesting, and many other backyard birds soon will do the same, remember that this is not the time to undertake hedge-trimming! Many of our feathered friends like to use your dense vegetation to hide their eggs and young. As well, look out for nests when pruning trees. According to the Migratory Bird Conventions Act it is illegal to damage or disturb an active nest.

As always, if you find a fallen nest or bird in distress, call MARS Wildlife Rescue at 250-337-2021. To learn more and enjoy some videos and photos of patients and ambassadors, visit us on Facebook or at marswildliferescue.com

Jane Sproull Thomson is a volunteer at the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS)

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