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Why Saskatchewan is seeing international travellers for winter birdwatching

The snowy owl is one of the species people come to Saskatchewan to see in the winter. (Submitted by Cathy Wall - image credit)
The snowy owl is one of the species people come to Saskatchewan to see in the winter. (Submitted by Cathy Wall - image credit)

Winter offers birdwatchers exciting opportunities in Saskatchewan, so much so that international travellers come to Saskatoon for tours.

Stan Shadick, the birding tour leader for Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation in Saskatoon, said it has been a busy winter birdwatching season. He said Saskatchewan is the best place in the world to find many northern birds in the winter, including snowy owls and northern shrikes.

"One owl that we've been looking at taking people to see is the Northern Hawk owl. This owl flies like a hawk with very short rapid wing beats. And something unique about this owl is that it has dark circles on the back of its head, so it looks like it has eyes in the back of the head," he said.

Shadick said birds have economic value due to ecotourism and that the provincial government should pay more attention.

LISTEN| Get your binoculars ready! Winter is a great time for birdwatching in Saskatoon:

Angela Tremka is the community engagement manager with Salthaven West Wildlife Rehabilitation and the co-ordinator of Bird Friendly Regina. She said Saskatchewan has a wide variety of birds to see in winter.

"We can see anything from our chickadees and woodpeckers. We've got a couple different kinds of finches. We've got house sparrows and dark-eyed juncos. We can even see some of our corvids stick around, like our blue jays, our black billed magpies, common ravens, and even the crows are back," she said.

Tremka said feeding birds is a great way to get that close up view.

"The most important thing to remember is to clean our bird feeders every two weeks. It is really important to help reduce the spread of salmonella or finch eye disease," she said.

"We can clean them by soaking them in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water."

Tremka mentioned the upcoming annual Great Backyard Bird Count, a worldwide event scheduled for Feb. 16 to 19.

"What you do is observe and count as many birds as you can find, and then you report your findings to birdcount.org. Each checklist that's submitted helps researchers learn about how birds are doing and how to protect them," she said.

This year's mild winter in Saskatchewan may affect bird activities.

"Migration is starting earlier and all of the birds are flying to Saskatchewan, say, and they're looking for bugs. The bugs aren't out yet. And so that could mean potentially some mass troubles among all of the bird populations."