Winter can be an excellent time of year to search for three large birds of prey that are not typically seen around the Bay of Quinte in summer, but visit our area during the winter months.
Since the new Quinte Courthouse was built on Bridge Street in Belleville, one or two Peregrines have been spotted by local bird watchers spending the night on the upper portions of the building, taking advantage of the heat vents. They can sometimes be seen roosting high up on the south side of the building at dawn or dusk. During the day their diet consists mainly of the local Pigeons or the wintering ducks on the open waters of the Bay.
The Peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on the planet, typically reaching speeds exceeding 320 km/hr during a dive. The fastest Peregrine recorded was 389 km/hr, faster than a Formula One Race Car on a straight stretch of raceway. In order to reach these speeds, the bird must gradually ascend to a high altitude, and then go into a steep dive, often striking and killing its prey on impact.
The pigeons of downtown Belleville know all about the incredible speed of the Peregrine Falcon; when chased by this swift predator, flocks of pigeons take evasive maneuvers to disrupts the Peregrines’ attack.
A highlight for anyone with an interest in nature, the elegant and striking Snowy Owl stands out among the winter bird life around the Bay. Snowy Owl populations in our area fluctuate each winter depending on their Arctic breeding success of the previous summer.
In the years when they are numerous they are more easily found in open areas, preferring farmers’ fields and expansive grasslands, or sometimes roosting on the Bay ice during the day. Occasionally one will alight atop a telephone pole next to a busy road, causing drivers to pull over for a quick selfie or two.
Snowy owls are interested mainly in catching voles, but will also take mice, squirrels and rabbits. Their hunting strategy is quite different than the speedy Peregrine falcon. The Snowy Owl relies on its incredible eyesight and sense of hearing to look and listen for the slightest movement, gliding silently just above the landscape, then pouncing upon its prey.
An impressive creature, the Bald eagle is mainly a visitor to the Bay of Quinte region when the lakes further north freeze over. The Bald eagle hunts by catching fish in its great talons from the ice-free areas of the Bay, or sometimes it will take a slumbering duck off guard.
But this large bird of prey is mostly a scavenger, feeding on the carcasses of dead fish and mammals. It is also seen congregating around our local landfills, attracted to the lovely scent of rotting garbage and the chance for an easy meal.
When seen in flight, the adults are more easily identifiable than the juveniles with their white head and tail on black body; the younger birds are mostly brown with subtle white patches on their under body. The wingspan of the adult averages six feet, about the same length of a man’s arm span.
While these three birds are fairly large, they blend in very well to their surroundings, and are not always easily seen. Which means we often have to go out into nature and take a closer look at our natural surroundings to find them. They are out there waiting to be admired.
Tom’s Ask of Month
The annual Belleville Christmas Bird Count will be held on December 27th. If you live within the “25km Count Circle” or 12.5km of downtown Belleville, and you would like to report the birds you see at your feeder that day, please enter it on eBird.org or email him at [email protected]
Here are some eBird checklists with Photos attached:
Peregrine falcon by Tom Wheatley
Snowy owl by Tom Wheatley
Snowy owl by Rick Beaudon
Bald eagle by Tom Wheatley