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A brush with the Louisiana Waterthrush
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A brush with the Louisiana Waterthrush

This blog is written by guest blogger Eric Davidson. While the Louisiana Waterthrush closely resembles a thrush, it’s actually a warbler. You can recognize this small bird by its dusty brown and white feathers, pink legs and always-bobbing tail.Image of a Louisiana Waterthrush The Louisiana Waterthrush’s habit of living along moving streams and rivers as well as their distinctive call, with the first notes of its song falling in pitch, set the bird apart from the Northern Waterthrush. The Northern Waterthrush prefers swamps and bogs, and its calls keep the same pitch. The early bird gets the worm The Louisiana Waterthrush makes a presence in Southern Ontario known with loud, ringing chirps. It gets there early in the spring before most other birds have arrived. Unlike many of its fellow warblers, the male Louisiana Waterthrush doesn’t sing at its wintering ground before leaving, but bursts into song when it arrives at its summer breeding territory. And it’s not just after worms. The Louisiana Waterthrush likes to feed on insects like beetles and ants, as well as dragonflies, crustaceans, snails, small fish and seeds. Home is where the heat is While some Louisiana Waterthrushes make regular summer stops in southern Ontario, most live south of the border. There are between 105 and 195 pairs of the species in Canada, less than one percent of the global population, which is around 360,000. Belying its name one again, the Louisiana Waterthrush can be found from Maine, Indiana and Minnesota, to Nabraska and Kansas, down to Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. To the envy of most Canadians, the Louisiana Waterthrush spends its winters in warm weather in the West Indies, Mexico and Central and South America. Image of a Louisiana WaterthrushConservation Deforestation and habit loss have caused the number of Louisiana Woodthrush to drop over the past few years. The bird is currently protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) and the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Environment Canada has released a plan to maintain the species by encouraging conservation of breeding sites and cooperation with international bodies like Partners in Flight. Fun Facts

  • The Louisiana Waterthrush sometimes takes naps in the middle of the day—birds need a break too!
  • The oldest known Louisiana Waterthrush was at least 11 years old, while the average lifespan for the birds is eight years.
  • The Louisiana Watherthrush’s distinct, bobbing walk is noted in its genus, Motacilla, which means “wagtail” in Latin.
  • The Louisiana Waterthrush is a quick eater, performing up to 10 feeding maneuvers per minute.
  • A group of warblers can be called a “bouquet”, “confusion”, “fall”, or “wrench”.

To learn more about the Louisiana Waterthrush, check out our Endangered Species Profile! 

Acknowledgments: All About Birds, What Bird, Animal Diversity Web and Widescreen Arkive.
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Introduction to Angel Catbird
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Introduction to Angel Catbird

Some find it strange that a person known for her novels and poetry would take to writing comic books, especially comic books called Angel Catbird. Why is a nice literary old lady like me—an award-winning nice literary old lady—a nice literary old lady who should be resting on her laurels in her rocking chair, being dignified and iconic—why is such a nice old lady messing around with flying cat-owl superheroes and nightclubs for cat people, not to mention giant rat men? Strange. But I myself don’t find it very strange. I was born in 1939, and was thus of a reading age when the war ended and colour comics made a booming comeback. Not only did I read masses of comics in magazine form, I could encounter many of the same characters in the weekend newspapers, which had big spreads of colour comics. Some of the comics were funny—Little Lulu, Li’l Abner, Mickey Mouse, Blondie, and so forth—but some were serious—Steve Canyon, Rip Kirby, and the unfathomable Mary Worth. And some were superheroes: Batman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Superman, Plastic Man, the Green Lantern, the Human Torch, and their ilk. Some were even aimed at improving young minds: the Classic Comics series had an educational bent. And some were just weird. In this last category I’d place Mandrake the Magician, Little Orphan Annie—in which nobody had pupils—and Dick Tracy: surrealist masterpieces, all of them, though somewhat disturbing for children. A criminal who could assume anyone’s face, behind which he looked like melting Swiss cheese? It was alarmingly close to Salvador Dalí, and kept me awake nights —as did Salvador Dali, when I came across him years later. Not only did I read all of these comics, I drew comics of my own. The earliest ones featured two flying rabbit superheroes, somewhat too jolly and fond of somersaults to be considered heavyweights. My older brother had a much larger stable of characters. They had more gravitas: they went in for large-scale warfare, whereas my own superheroes just fooled around with the odd bullet. Along with the superhero rabbits I drew winged flying cats, many with balloons attached to them. I was obsessed with balloons, as no balloons were available during the war. So I’d seen pictures of them, but never the actual thing. It was similar with the cats: I wasn’t allowed to have one because we were up in the Canadian forests a lot. How would the cat travel? Once there, wouldn’t it run away and be eaten by mink? Very likely. So, for the first part of my life, my cats were flying dream cats. Time passed, and both the balloons and the cats materialized in my real life. The balloons were a disappointment, liable as they were to burst and deflate; the cats were not. For over fifty years I was a dedicated cat person, with a few gaps here and there when I was a student. My cats were a pleasure, a comfort, and an aid to composition. The only reason I don’t have one now is that I’m afraid of tripping on it. That, and of leaving it an orphan, so to speak. As the 1940s changed into the 1950s and I became a teenager, the comic that preoccupied me the most was Walt Kelly’s Pogo, which, with its cast of swamp critters combined with its satire of the McCarthy era’s excesses, set a new benchmark: how to be entertainingly serious while also being seriously entertaining. Meanwhile I was continuing to draw, and to design the odd visual object—posters, for the silk-screen poster business I was running on the Ping-Pong table in the late fifties, and book covers, for my own first books, because that was cheaper than paying a pro. In the seventies I drew a sort-of political strip called Kanadian Kultchur Komix for a magazine called, puzzlingly, This Magazine. I then took to drawing a yearly strip called Book Tour Comix, which I would send to my publishers at Christmas to make them feel guilty. (That didn’t succeed.) It’s no great coincidence that the narrator of my 1972 novel, Surfacing, is an illustrator, and that the narrator of my 1988 novel, Cat’s Eye, is a figurative painter. We all have unlived lives. (Note that none of these narrators has ever been a ballet dancer. I did try ballet, briefly, but it made me dizzy.) And I continued to read comics, watching the emergence of a new generation of psychologically complex characters with relationship problems (Spider-Man, who begat Wolverine, et cetera). Then came the emergence of graphic novels, with such now-classics as Maus and Persepolis: great- grandchildren of Pogo, whether they knew it or not. Meanwhile I had become more and more immersed in the world of bird conservation. I now had a burden of guilt from my many years of cat companionship, for my cats had gone in and out of the house, busying themselves with their cat affairs, which included the killing of small animals and birds. These would turn up as gifts, placed thoughtfully either on my pillow instead of a chocolate, or on the front doormat, where I would slip on them. Sometimes it would not even be a whole animal. One of my cats donated only the gizzards. From this collision between my comic-reading-and-writing self and the bird blood on my hands, Angel Catbird was born. I pondered him for several years, and even did some preliminary sketches. He would be a combination of cat, owl, and human being, and he would thus have an identity conflict—do I save this baby robin, or do I eat it? But he would be able to understand both sides of the question. He would be a walking, flying carnivore’s dilemma. But I realized that Angel Catbird would have to look better than the flying cats I’d drawn in my childhood—two-dimensional and wooden—and better also than my own later cartoons, which were fairly basic and lumpy. I wanted Angel Catbird to look sexy, like the superhero and noir comics I’d read in the forties. He would have to have muscles. Angel CatBird page So I would need a coauthor. But how to find one? This wasn’t a world of which I had much knowledge. Then up on my Twitter feed popped, one day, a possible answer. A person called Hope Nicholson was resurrecting one of the forgotten Canadian superheroes of the wartime 1940s and fundraising it via Kickstarter. Not only that, Hope lived in Toronto. I put the case for Angel Catbird to her, we got together in a strange Russian- themed pub, and lo and behold, she came onboard and connected me not only with artist Johnnie Christmas, who could draw just the right kinds of muscles and also owl claws, but the publisher, Dark Horse Comics. The Dark Horse editor of the series is Daniel Chabon, who from his picture looks about fifteen. I have never met him, nor have I met Johnnie, nor the excellent colourist Tamra Bonvillain, but I am sure such a meeting will take place in the future. All of these collaborators have been wonderful. What more could an illustrator manqué such as myself possibly ask for? What fun we have had! At least, I have had fun. Watching Angel Catbird come to life has been hugely engaging. There was, for instance, a long email debate about Angel’s pants. He had to have pants of some kind. Feather pants, or what? And if feathers, what kind of feathers? And should these pants be underneath his human pants, and just sort of emerge? How should they manifest themselves? Questions would be asked, and we needed to have answers. And what about Cate Leone, the love interest? Pictures of cat eyes flew back and forth through the ether, and at one point I found myself scanning and sending a costume sketch I had done. What would a girl who is also a cat wear while singing in a nightclub act? Boots with fur trim and claws on the toes? Blood-drop earrings? Such questions occupy my waking hours. What sort of furniture should Count Catula—part bat, part cat, part vampire—have in his castle? Should some of it be upside down, considering the habits of bats? (Count Catula is important in his own right, for bats are in a lot of trouble worldwide.) How to make a white Egyptian vulture look seductive? (You know what they eat, right?) Should Octopuss have a cat face and tentacle hair? Should Cate Leone have a rival for Angel Catbird’s attentions—a part girl, part owl called AtheneOwl? I’m thinking yes. In her human form, does she work at Hooters, or is that a pun too far? So. Like that. There is, of course, a science-and-conservation side to this project: it is supplied by Nature Canada, who are not only contributing the statistics that can be found here and there in the book in the banners at the bottoms of the pages, but are also running a #SafeCatSafeBird outreach campaign to urge cat owners not to let their cats range freely. The mortality figures for free- range cats are shockingly high: they get bitten, hit by cars, eaten by foxes, and that’s just the beginning. So, it’s good for cats and good for birds to keep the cats safe, and in conditions in which they can’t contribute to the millions of annual bird deaths attributed to cats. On CatsAndBirds.ca, cat owners can take the pledge, and as the pledges mount up, we can hope that there might be an uptick in the plummeting bird counts that are being recorded in so many places. It may also result in better conditions for stressed forests, since it is the migratory songbirds that weed insect pests out of the trees. Cats aren’t the only factor in the decline of birds, of course—habitat loss, pesticides, and glass windows are all playing a part—but they’re a big factor. There used to be an elephant who came around to grade schools. He was called Elmer the Safety Elephant, and he gave advice on crossing streets safely and not getting run over. If your school had managed a year without a street accident, Elmer gave you a flag. In my wildest dreams, Angel Catbird and Cate Leone, and maybe even Count Catula, would go around and give something or other—a flag, a trophy?—to schools that had gathered a certain number of safe-cat pledges. Who knows, maybe it will happen. Before we act, we imagine and wish, and I’m wishing and imagining a result like that. If it does happen, I’ll be the first to climb into my boots with claws on the toes, or maybe sprout some wings, in aid of the cause. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Angel Catbird as much as my partners and I have enjoyed creating it. It’s been a hoot! Or a meow. Or both. -- Margaret Atwood, excerpted from Angel CatBird with the permission of the author and Dark Horse Comics

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Keeping Cats Safe and Saving Bird Lives
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Keeping Cats Safe and Saving Bird Lives

[caption id="attachment_16443" align="alignleft" width="150"]Eleanor Fast Eleanor Fast
Executive Director[/caption] I’m excited! Today Nature Canada launches a new initiative to Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives catsandbirds.ca. Our aim is to reduce the number of free-roaming cats in Canada. This initiative will bring together cat lovers across Canada – in our Nature Canada community and beyond – to protect wildlife; it highlights ways that we as nature lovers can take individual actions to protect nature in our community; and it builds on Nature Canada’s commitment to keep science and evidence at the heart of our work.

Keeping science at the forefront

I am always asking myself and our conservation team a lot of questions.  How can we have the biggest impact to protect birds and other wildlife?  What are today’s biggest threats? How can Nature Canada members help? Cat and BirdClimate change and habitat destruction have a huge effect on bird populations, and Nature Canada is working on those issues, but there are also significant human impacts on birds such as collisions with windows and cars, and cats. In fact, cats are by far the largest cause of bird deaths – the best science estimates that of 270 million human-related bird deaths in Canada each year, cats account for about 75% - an estimated 200 million, compared with 25 million bird deaths due to window collisions.  The evidence shows that outdoor cats are exposed to a variety of threats, including disease, parasites, being run over by vehicles, and fights with wildlife. Tragically 1,300 dead cats were collected from the streets of Toronto in a single year, and 50,000 cats were euthanized in a year because homes could not be found for them.  The evidence shows the keeping cats from roaming free will lead to safer lives for cats, and save bird lives.

Taking individual actions

YOU are the key to the success of this initiative.  We need your help, and the help of individuals across Canada.  If you are a cat owner please visit catsandbirds.ca to learn more and sign the pledge to keep your cat from roaming free. And encourage your friends and neighbours to do the same.  If you’re not a cat owner you can still join the movement - sign up for email updates for tips on what you can do to keep cats safe and save bird lives in your neighbourhood.  Right now, at the launch of this three year campaign we are focused on individual actions to keep pet cats safe.  But in the coming months we will be providing information about talking to your city councilor and encouraging no free roam bylaws, and we will be addressing other issues such as feral cats.  Sign up now for updates so you don’t miss out!

A sense of community

Nature Canada is proud to be working with partners and sponsors across Canada to keep cats safe and save bird lives.  We are enormously grCat with deep blue eyesateful to PetsPlusUs, Indigo, Fuller Landau, Environment Canada, and The Crabtree Foundation for financial support, and to our media partners The Walrus and Toronto Life.  We are also grateful for the partnership of nature groups across the country who are working with us to bring the message to their local communities.  We are just at the early stages of this project and looking for more community partners and I would love to hear from you if you would like to spearhead this in your own organization. And last but not least, a huge thanks to Margaret Atwood, one of Nature Canada’s Women for Nature and a longtime supporter, whose upcoming graphic novel Angel Catbird will draw attention to this important issue. So, yes, I am excited! Please visit catsandbirds.ca to find out more about this project and please let me know what you think.
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