• A rufous hummingbird flying

    Rufous hummingbird. (Photo: Bryan Hanson)

Hey now: hummingbirds are an “all-star”

West coasters should rejoice in seeing a feisty rufous hummingbird buzz by. Turns out the success of this tiny flier is an important indicator of a healthy ecosystem — and may be key to protecting other species. A recent article in National Geographic noted “We often save the most charismatic species. Is it time to think beyond pandas and tigers?” That article zeroed in on research by UBC’s Adam Ford and Sarah Falconer, who found the hummingbird was a best indicator, or “surrogate,” species (surrogate species are plants and animals whose health is an indicator of the overall health of an entire landscape). In other words, if you see lots of hummingbirds, it’s a very good sign for all kinds of flora and fauna. The researchers’ list of 10 “all-star” B.C. surrogates also includes three carnivores (the American black bear, coyote and grey wolf), two ungulates (the rocky mountain elk and mule deer), two other birds (the barn swallow and tree swallow) and one smaller mammal (the long-tailed weasel). 

Mottled duskywing takes flight

Photo: Courtesy Jessica Linton

It has been described as “not much to look at,” but the mottled duskywing is a bold history maker. This summer, the non-descript butterfly — small, greyish-brown and speckled — became the first endangered butterfly to be reintroduced into the wild in Ontario. It was once common around the province, but had almost disappeared as human development decimated its oak savannah habitat. The release of the butterfly in Pinery Provincial Park is part of a five-year conservation program to breed the insect and reintroduce it in the remaining pockets of oak savannah in the province.

Deer out of the headlights

Photo: Marko Hankkila
Wolves moving into the neighbourhood might be bad news if you’re a deer — but there’s a silver lining. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that the number of deer involved in vehicle collisions drops by 24 per cent when wolves move into an area. While this decrease is partially due to the predatory wolves thinning the herd, the scientists discovered the wolves’ presence creates “a landscape of fear.” This causes deer to remain more alert and keep their distance from roadways — commonly used by wolves as travel corridors. And the economic benefit tied to this reduction in traffic collisions could be 63 times greater than the cost of wolves preying on livestock.

Pokémon NO

Photo: Matias Tapia

They’re quirky! They’re cute! They’re illegal in New Brunswick! Axolotls — the funky little salamander that gained fame as a Pokémon character — made the news for a different reason last week in New Brunswick. Turns out the exotic pet, which has been showing up with increasing frequency in pet stores and on Facebook trading sites in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and British Columbia, also carries some exotic diseases. Those diseases could do significant harm to native salamanders if the axolotl was introduced into the wild.

Whoop whoop!

Photo: Jeffrey Hamilton

Once just 21 strong in the wild, the rarest of all cranes had a visit from the stork earlier this spring. On May 28th — Whooping Crane Day — the Calgary Zoo announced the hatching of three new whooping crane chicks from three different couples. After artificial insemination and around 28 days of incubation, zoo staff helped hatch loving parents Hercules and Helsinki’s chick after it had pipped through its air cell. Another lucky couple, Tim and Bombadil, hatched after 32 days and three previous breeding seasons without success. The final pair of doting cranes — Gary Snyder and Inukshuk — received Tim and Bombadil’s second egg (it’s rare for whooping cranes to lay more than one!), hatching it after 33 days. As the only facility in Canada with a whooping crane captive breeding program for release in the wild, the Calgary Zoo called on crane fans to keep #RootingFortheLittleWhoopers!