It is another sign of spring. Birds that winter down south have been making their way back to Manitoba.
Jacques Bourgeois with Oak Hammock Marsh says the first Canada Goose was spotted at the Marsh on March 18th. Bourgeois explains that is right on par, as the first sighting is historically around mid-March. Yet, by comparison, in 2018 the first goose arrived on March 3rd and in 2017 on February 21st.
Canada Geese are the first of the migrants to arrive back in Manitoba. Bourgeois notes there are a couple of factors that help birds determine when it is time to head north again. One factor is hormones. Bourgeois says as days get longer there are hormones that kick in, which triggers an urge to migrate. This usually coincides with the Equinox, when there is a similar amount of daylight and nighttime hours each day.
Another factor is weather patterns. For example, he says the March 13th storm that hit southern Manitoba probably slowed down the migration, forcing some birds to wait for the system to pass.
Bourgeois says just because the arrival of Canada Geese came later this year than the previous two years, that should not lead you to believe that spring-like weather will also arrive later.
According to Bourgeois, birds will gain up to 20 per cent of their body weight before making the trip north. They lose a lot of that weight while flying and then are forced to diet when they reach southern Manitoba because food isn't readily available.
"But they still manage to survive and they manage to live off the fat reserve that they've had," notes Bourgeois. "Now that the nice warm days are here, things are starting to melt and there's a bit of leftover grains and stuff on the field and they can feed on that."
The birds you see flying back to Manitoba come from all over the United States and even as low as South America. For example, the Canada Geese that nest in southern Manitoba spend the winter in Rochester, Minnesota, while those that live in northern Manitoba will be coming from South Dakota. Bourgeois explains ducks are long-distance migrants, coming from South America.
Meanwhile, geese are not the only species of birds to be spotted already this spring. Bourgeois says killdeer have been seen too. The next birds to arrive are usually the ducks and then birds of prey. After that, it is the small songbirds which usually arrive in late April or early May and then the shorebirds.
"I guess spring is finally here," he says. "When the first geese honk that is a sure sign of spring."