Using Birds To Help Study Forest’s Recovery From Horse River Wildfire

The speed of the Boreal Forest’s recovery from the Horse River wildfire is being measured in a unique way – through birds.

Owl Moon Environmental Inc. have been counting the bird population in the region since 2011 in an attempt to see the impacts industry has had on the species.

Since June 2016, a lot of their attention has focused on how the wildlife is reacting following one of the biggest fires in the country’s history.

Co-Owner of Owl Moon Environmental Christine Godwin tells Mix News, unsurprisingly, they saw a big drop in population.

“It didn’t mean we weren’t finding birds, we certainly did find birds, but not nearly as many as what were there before the fire.”

The group has over 30 stations across the region where they do bird banding which helps identify species, their age, sex, and whether they have any health conditions.

Five of the locations were damaged in the wildfire, however, in the years since they’ve been able to work out of them again.

These are the spots where they’ve truly learned about the birds behaviour following a fire.

The stations found in the aspen mixedwood section of the forest have seen numbers return to levels from before the wildfire.

At first, they noticed a lot of sparrows as they’re known to like younger forests, however, the numbers in other species including warblers have been steadily increasing.

Godwin says they’ve even found specific birds they’ve seen before.

“We did have some birds that were banded before the fire and when we went back in after the fire and we were re-catching some of those same birds, so they are returning to the forest they were breeding in before.”

There are still some locations that are seeing low numbers.

They are found in the coniferous section which includes black spruce, white spruce, some of the pine stands, and evergreen trees.

“Because they’re very slow growing trees, it takes a very long time for them to regenerate and the birds are not going to come back to those habitats nearly as quickly,” added Godwin.

She didn’t state when numbers could start matching those in the aspen mixedwood section, only noting it will take some time.

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