Previous Editions:

Newsletter of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre Vol. 1, No.2
Macdonald Campus of McGill University, Quebec Fall 1999


Dear friends:
It is with great pleasure that I present to you the Fall 1999 issue of The Talon, a newsletter designed to keep you up to speed on the research and training initiatives of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre whose aim is to promote the study and conservation of birds through research in field and laboratory. There is no shortage of material either; graduate students come and go and new research projects are always underway, as you will see by reading this edition of our newsletter. Many people are not aware that the ASCC is entirely self-funded and that we rely heavily on the generosity of folks like you. Due to competition from many worthy causes in a dwindling pool of money, raising funds is not easy these days and we like to think that we do a lot for a little! Please help us to encourage others to lend support to the ASCC and its work to conserve the birds! Dr. D. M. Bird



When Dr. Bird agreed to supervise Veera Harnal for her M.Sc. study of the endangered Eld's Deer at the Center for Conservation and Research (CRC) in Front Royal, Virginia (affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and the National Zoo in Washington DC), he exacted a promise from her to conduct a side-study on birds. Veera kept her part of the bargain by studying the effect of cold storage (4C) on sperm function and fertility in the Northern Pintail duck. Pintail sperm was found to be cold resistant for up to 72 hours, proven by the production of viable offspring via artificial insemination. The Northern Pintail is being used as a model in order to refine assisted breeding techniques which will eventually be applied towards the conservation of endangered waterfowl species such as the Bahama Pintail. The ability to cold-store and ship semen effectively would facilitate captive breeding programs by eliminating the need to stressfully move individual birds among institutions. 


To celebrate the Millennium, the very first Montreal Bird Festival will be held on Victoria Day Weekend, May 19-22, 2000.  Founded by Dr. Bird who is also the chairman of the organizing committee, this event promises to be one of the biggest of the 125 or so bird festivals currently being held in North America each year.  Many of the events, including local and long-distance field trips, bird films, bird and nature exhibits, art show, keynote speakers, mini-festival for children, and much more, will be centered around the Biodome complex in east Montreal.  The city of Montreal, the Quebec Wildlife Foundation, and the Millennium Fund of the federal government are the main sponsors to date.



Some ornithologists and bird-watchers believe that the Sharp-shinned Hawk, the smallest of our true forest-dwelling hawks in North America, is altering its migratory patterns in northern latitudes because of the growing presence of a new food source: bird-feeders!  Joanna Coleman has begun an M.Sc. study with Dr. Bird to study the ecology of this interesting hawk in the Montreal region. Besides finding nests to determine their breeding habits, Joanna also expects to radio-track individual hawks spending the winter in West Island to see whether they spend most of their time hanging about certain backyard bird-feeding operations. With the help of Eugene Jacobs, a sharp-shinned hawk expert brought in from Wisconsin, Joanna located six nests this past spring and summer. With great enthusiasm, she attended her first conference in early November in Baja Mexico and gave an excellent poster presentation on her preliminary results.



Red Crossbills are intriguing little songbirds.  Their upper and lower mandibles are crossed over to form a special tool to allow their owner to pry open the scales of pine cones.  Julie Simard is concerned about the loss of old-growth White Pine trees on crossbills in Ontario, so she undertook an M.Sc. project funded by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Canadian Forest Service and supervised by Dr. Rodger D. Titman, Associate Director of the ASCC and Dr. Ian D. Thompson of the Canadian Forest Service.  Her study area is in Algonquin Park.  Julie is in the last stages of her thesis research and her results so far suggest that red crossbills prefer forest stands with older white pine trees, having large crowns and sufficient cones.  In short, to keep Red Crossbills around, we need to keep large White Pines standing.



In a study funded by Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research, Dr. Bird, a raptor specialist, and Dr. Titman, a waterfowl expert, have joined forces to supervise two graduate students who are trying to determine whether prairie landscapes enhanced for waterfowl recruitment have become giant "bird-feeders" for Red-tailed Hawks and Great Horned Owls.  In 1997 and 1998, Alain Fontaine, an M.Sc. student, spearheaded a team of several wildlife students to focus on habitat selection by red-tails in selected sites in Saskatchewan.  He also initiated the food habits study that has now become an M.Sc. project for Marc Pauze beginning in the summer of 1999.  Accompanied by four field assistants, Marc directly observed seven hawk nests and collected pellets from 12 nests.  All of the members of the 1999 field crew would like to say a special thank you to the Frydenlunds for their wonderful hospitality.


For their generosity, the ASCC would like to thank

the following corporations and organizations:
Hylcan Foundation~Hagen Avicultural Research Institute~Rolf C. Hagen, Inc.~Martineau Walker~Domaine de la Foret II~Russell Williams~Nature Scene~Mill Pond Press~Canadian Wildlife Foundation~Province of Quebec Society for the Protection of Birds, Inc.~Spinelli Fairview Toyota~Fondation de la Faune du Quebec~Endangered Species Recovery Fund - Canadian Wildlife Service and World Wildlife Fund Canada~Cedarbrook Golf and Country Club~ClubLink Corp.~Central Distributors Ltd.~Frame-U Art & Nature~Cramer Nursery~Falcon Environmental Services~Madacy Entertainment Group~McGill Athletics~Viking Distribution~Fairview Lincoln Mercury~Nu-Gro Corporation~J.E. Mondou~O.J. Company Ltd.
....and the following individuals: Walter Stopkewich~Doreen Estey~Pierrette Campbell~Ken Thorpe~Peter Landry~Alvin Schacter~Liza Noble~John Noble Fawcett~Johanne Dion~Michel Frenette~Pierre Demole~Aino Arik~Margaret Hill~Wanda Trineer~Sam and Patricia Kingdon~Kathleen MacNamara~Elizabeth Price~Joyce Booth~Douglas Black~Phyllis Pinchuk~Helen Shapiro~Jean-Luc Grondin~Robert Bateman~Stefane Bougie~Bob Comeau~Barbara Johnson~Bruce Campbell~Donald Lortie~Josh Radu


In many duck species, some females prefer to have other ducks take on the responsibility of incubating their eggs.  Essentially, when the other duck isn't looking, they'll dump a bunch of eggs into the unsuspecting bird's nest.  This is not hard to do because ducks cannot recognize the extra eggs as being strange and in general, they lay large clutches of eggs which hatch fairly synchronously with those of the other ducks in the area.  Biologists call this behaviour "intraspecific nest parasitism".  Dr. Rodger Titman, Associate Director of the ASCC, has been intrigued by this behaviour for years and in 1999, began supervision of Jovette Bouchard for an M.Sc. study involving Red-breasted Mergansers in Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick.  Red-breasted mergansers widely engage in this sort of nest parasitism, but so far no one knows the identity of the parasitic birds or their tactics to successfully dump eggs in other females' nests.  It may well be that many of the females are genetically related, thus making the strategy more palatable to both the parasite and the victim.  By collecting feathers and leftover egg membranes, Jovette is hoping to apply DNA fingerprinting techniques to discover the identity of the ducks and hence, their genetic relationship.  Her second field season begins in the spring of 2000.  The study is partly funded by Parks Canada.



The eastern subspecies of the Loggerhead Shrike is highly endangered, with only forty pairs remaining in the wild in Ontario and virtually none left in Quebec.  While the existing wild shrikes are receiving much deserved attention, it is critical that a captive population be maintained until the causes of the bird's decline are uncovered.  While some claim that habitat degradation might be the culprit, there still seems to be plenty of available habitat out there in both provinces but with no shrikes in sight.  So that no time is lost in developing techniques to introduce captive-bred shrikes into the wild, the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Team of which Dr. Bird is a member, is planning to undertake some experimental releases next summer in Quebec and Ontario.  Improvements are also needed in the area of captive breeding.  In the spring of 1999, nine pairs were set up at the ASCC and another seven at the Metro Zoo in Toronto.  Only six young were produced at each of the two facilities.  It is suspected that perhaps the birds are being paired up too late.  The zoo plans to try pairing birds by allowing the females to select the male of their choice, while the ASCC will endeavour to pair its birds a month earlier. 



"THE BIRD COURSE", a 5-day course aimed at educating adults at all levels in an entertaining fashion about ornithology, bird-watching and bird conservation, was completely filled with 20 participants in May of 1999.   Dr. Bird and Dr. Titman, who teach the course, were especially delighted by the increasing number of Americans taking part.  The course consists of daily lectures and laboratory sessions, as well as morning field trips to watch birds and capture them in mistnests for banding.  No special qualifications are necessary!  The fee is $325 CDN and dormitory housing on campus is available for the incredibly low price of about $75 CDN for the whole week!  The next course is being held right after the Montreal Bird Festival (see article in this issue on this). For more information, check out the ASCC web site or contact Dr. Titman at the ASCC.



The Third Annual "Birdies 4 Birdies'" Golf Tournament was held on September 9, 1999 at the Cedarbrook Golf & Country Club in Ste. Sophie, Quebec.  While the number of hole and event sponsors was slightly down from the previous year, the ASCC still netted about $15,000 from the net to help fund its endangered shrike research.  Once again signed prints by Robert Bateman, Roger Tory Peterson, Jean-Luc Grondin, as well as some fine artists from Mill Pond Press in Florida were given away as top prizes to winning foursomes and auctioned in a silent raffle.  The event would not have been a success without the dedication and hard work by Doug and Lynn Meyer employed by ClubLink, the owner of Cedarbrook, and Greg Weil of McGill University, and dozens of golf, country clubs and companies who sponsered foursomes.

The Talon: Chief Editor: Dr. D. M. Bird     Assistant Editor and Developer: Marc Pauze

Newsletter of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre  Vol. 1, No.1
Macdonald Campus of McGill University, Quebec Spring 1999


Dear friends:

Thanks to less expensive desktop and internet publishing techniques, we are pleased to be able to offer you this first edition of The Talon, a newsletter with the sole purpose of keeping you informed of the many projects initiated by the Avian Science and Conservation Centre, formerly the Macdonald Raptor Research Centre.  Our aim is to promote the study of birds in both pure and applied fashion and in both field and laboratory.  Naturally this costs money and the ASCC is constantly on the hunt for funding.  Due to cutbacks virtually everywhere, the ASCC does not receive any annual ongoing support for its operating costs from any government or from McGill University other than the professorial salary of its Director and secretarial and office support.   Knowing very well the value of a loonie these days, we make every effort to spend our hard-earned money wisely in our efforts to help the birds.  In short, WE NEED YOUR HELP!  Yes, there are many good causes for humanity out there, but we must not forget our wild heritage.  I cannot imagine a world without birds.

Dr. D. M. Bird


Since 1984 endangered Peregrine Falcons have been nesting on skyscrapers in downtown Montreal.  In 1998 the birds chose to nest on the 32nd floor of Place Victoria, the Montreal Stock Exchange Building.  For some unknown reason, none of the three eggs hatched and the ASCC had to replace the eggs with a baby male peregrine provided by Falcon Environmental Services.  Since the nest was being constantly video-taped on a big-screen television in the lobby for the general public, everyone waited with bated breath to see if Mom and Dad would accept the foster chick.  The little chap grew like a weed under the watchful eye of Kat Rother, the summer student hired by the law firm Martineau Walker who, with the assistance of the ASCC, set up The Peregrine Falcon Information Centre to educate the public on endangered birds.  At the official opening, a cheque for about $5,000 was presented by Martineau Walker to Dr. Bird for the ASCC.  The little male peregrine, shown at left and right, was banded in June by Dr. David Bird with the assistance of Oliver Love from the ASCC and Jean Masson from Martineau Walker.


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The biggest news at the ASCC continues to be our captive breeding program to breed critically endangered Loggerhead shrikes for the purpose of releasing captive-bred progeny into their former habitats in Quebec and Ontario.  Only 25-30 pairs are known to remain in Ontario, while the species has virtually been extirpated in Quebec. In 1997, 15 wild shrike nestlings were collected, and 8 were raised at the ASCC by endangered species coordinator Ian Ritchie.  The remaining 7 went to the Toronto Zoo, the other main partner in this important breeding effort.  From these 8 birds, three breeding pairs were set up in the spring of 1998 at the ASCC and they successfully produced four chicks.  These four, along with 16 additional wild chicks collected by the centre during 1998, will form a large captive breeding colony for 1999.  Hopefully, thanks to the hard work of Ian and many people at both centres and elsewhere, the Loggerhead shrike will once again be a vibrant part of our eastern agricultural landscapes.  The ASCC is indebted to World Wildlife Fund Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Province of Quebec Society for the Protection of Birds, Canadian Wildlife Foundation, Rolf and Mark Hagen, Quebec Wildlife Foundation and the Hylcan Foundation for their generous sponsorship of this program.


In hopes of finding a way to train wild raptors to avoid eating valuable gamebirds and racing pigeons in the U.K., Dr. Mike Nicholls from Canterbury Christ Church College in Canterbury, England spent two weeks at the centre working with ASCC researcher Oliver Love conditioning captive American kestrels to avoid eating certain foods.  The hope is that wild birds of prey such as Peregrine falcons, goshawks and harriers can be "trained" to avoid certain valuable game-birds such as pheasants and Red grouse by associating the prey with a particular bad taste or strange colour.  As Dr. Nicholls says, "More and more raptors are falling victim to persecution from humans seeking revenge upon these competitors and predators of their valuable game.  A way of training the raptors must be found, since training the human has as yet been unsuccessful".  A presentation of the work was made by Dr. Bird at the 5th annual Conference on Raptors of the World in South Africa.


The ASCC is proud to announce that Ms. Kim Fernie successfully defended her Ph.D. dissertation in September.  Supervised by Dr. Bird, Kim studied the effects of electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) on captive and wild kestrels.  Birds of prey all over the world use powerlines for roosting, nesting and hunting and they are often electrocuted.  While this problem is slowly being resolved, no one had considered the possibility that the powerlines were somehow having some more insidious effects on birds which use them.  According to Kim's complex findings, the kestrels appear to perceive the EMFs as light, which alters their photoperiod and subsequently their hormonal balance.  Reproductive success was inconsistently affected by EMFs.  Whether this is a serious problem for wild raptors remains to be determined by further research.  Besides other numerous awards, Kim's research benefitted largely from a 2 year Hydro Quebec/McGill University Major Scholarship and a grant from the Province of Quebec Society for the Protection of Birds.


Mr. Peter Thomas has just completed his M.Sc. with Dr. Bird studying the effects of low-level flying military jets on Osprey reproductive performance in Labrador and northeastern Quebec.  Nests were monitored for the duration of two breeding seasons to determine nest occupancy, clutch size, number of hatchlings and number of fledglings.  While Peter did not find any significant impacts of the jets on any aspect of Osprey reproductive output, he emphasizes that caution should be taken when applying these findings to general management plans, since the Ospreys in Labrador and Northern Quebec may have habituated to the flying since it began in the 1980s.  The study was entirely funded by the Department of National Defence and the Newfoundland & Labrador Department of the Environment.


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The second annual "Birdies 4 Birdies" benefit golf tournament was held on September 10, 1998 at the Cedarbrook Golf and Country Club in St. Sophie and $16,000 was raised for the ASCC.  The day-long event included not only the fun, but competitive tournament with top foursome prizes being signed prints by artists Robert Bateman and the late Roger Tory Peterson, but also a banquet with a silent auction and a raffle.  Its success was due to many generous donors, players and volunteers, but especially to Robin and Mandy Ram, Doug and Lynn Meyer, Toni Bird and Greg Weil.  Look for a repeat of this classy event next  September!  Pictured to the right with Dr. Bird are Robin Ram (left) and Doug Meyer (centre).


The ASCC is absolutely delighted to have Dr. Rodger Titman (pictured at the right) join our ranks officially as Associate Director. A professor of wildlife biology in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences since 1973, Rodger's primary research interests focus on waterfowl behaviour and habitat selection and wetland ecology, but he also supervises students on Red Crossbills, gulls, bats and turtles!  He and Dr. Bird are the best of friends and share many interests, including a partnership in a nature store (Wildlifers), joint teaching of The Bird Course (see ad in this issue) for each May and ornithology and fish and wildlife management courses on McGill University's Macdonald campus.  They also play on the same prolific line on the Staff hockey team against the students each Monday evening in winter.


Each summer the ASCC takes on two to six International Summer Student Interns from around the world to train them in research, conservation and captive breeding and management of birds.  In 1998 we were very pleased to collaborate with Mr. Mark Hagen of the Hagen Avicultural Research Institute in Rigaud by sharing the efforts of Ms. Susan Anderson of Australia to study semen production in Quaker Parakeets.  An intern from nearby John Abbott College, Ms. Genna Dionne, now a veterinary assistant in Florida, helped with the maintenance and care of the centre's kestrel colony as well as the endangered captive loggerhead shrike colony.  Ms. Jennifer Wilson from Saskatchewan aided Dr. Gary Bortolotti from the University of Saskatchewan in a large summer project examining the role of organochlorine pollutants, i.e. PCBs, as endocrine disruptors (more on this in the next issue).  We were also delighted to host intern, Ms. Maria Lazaro, who travelled all the way from Spain to help collect data for Dr. Bortolotti.

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"THE BIRD COURSE", a  5-day course aimed at educating  (and entertaining!) adults at all levels about ornithology and bird- watching, is being offered between May 17 and 21, 1999 by Drs. David M. Bird and Rodger Titman, professors at the Macdonald Campus of McGill University only a short bus ride from the cosmopolitan city of Montreal.  The course consists of daily lectures and laboratory sessions, as well as early morning field trips.  Last years' class is pictured above.  No special qualifications are necessary.  The fee is $325 CDN.  Maximum enrollment is 20.  Dormitory housing at an incredibly low price of $60 CDN for the whole week is available upon request.  For further information, contact Rodger Titman, Avian Science and Conservation Centre, 21,111 Lakeshore Rd., Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec H9X 3V9 (1-514-398-7933 ph; 398-7990 fax; email:


A recent survey by ASCC researchers Oliver Love and Christina Semeniuk at the Hillsdale Golf and Country Club in Mirabel found a wide variety of avian species inhabiting the land within and around the complex.  A golf course that strives to enhance its natural biodiversity by decreasing intensively mowed zones, allowing areas of natural growth, as well as encouraging wildlife with natural food and nesting sites, Hillsdale has received certification from the Audubon Society of New York.  The 36 hole complex was home to over sixty bird species including Pileated woodpeckers, Broad-winged hawks, Northern harriers, American woodcocks, and numerous warblers.  Although many golf courses used to be designed and run without nature in mind, an emphasis in combining the golfing experience while promoting the potential of these areas as natural reserves is beginning to take hold.  The ASCC hopes to study the effects of human-altered areas such as golf courses in the near future to determine their conservation potential as our world loses more and more suitable wild habitat.


The Avian Science and Conservation Centre is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study of birds and their conservation. This is accomplished in three ways: 1) pure and applied research, 2) conservation of endangered species through captive breeding and the management of wild populations and 3) the training of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as interns, from around the world.  The centre relies on your generosity to continue our work in the fields of avian conservation and public education.  Please make a tax-deductible donation, or even a bequest to the Avian Science and Conservation Centre by quickly filling out and returning the form on the reverse side of this sheet. We guarantee that your donation will be used to help bird populations in the wild! "WE DO A LOT FOR A LITTLE!"


Annual donors receive a one-year subscription to The Talon, the semi-annual newsletter of the ASCC. All donations are tax-deductible.

Enclosed please find a donation of $ ___________________
[   ] Student $10.00               [   ] Sponsor $500.00 or more
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[   ] Supporting $100.00 or more

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2003 Avian Science and Conservation Centre
McGill University, 21,111 Lakeshore Rd.
Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, Canada H9X 3V9
Phone: (514) 398-7760    Fax: (514) 398-7990