An adult male yellow-breasted chat is shown in this undatd photograph on lands protected in collaboration between the En’owkin Centre and Penticton Indian Band with support through ECCC. The rescue from near extinction for a little yellow bird hinges on the wild rose in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a researcher says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, A. Michael Bezener/ En’owkin Centre 2020 *MANDATORY CREDIT*

An adult male yellow-breasted chat is shown in this undatd photograph on lands protected in collaboration between the En’owkin Centre and Penticton Indian Band with support through ECCC. The rescue from near extinction for a little yellow bird hinges on the wild rose in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a researcher says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, A. Michael Bezener/ En’owkin Centre 2020 *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Rare yellow birds need wild roses to survive in British Columbia: researcher

The importance of local wild roses emerged over a nearly 20-year experiment

A little yellow bird’s rescue from the brink of extinction in British Columbia hinges on an oft-overlooked wild flower in the province’s Okanagan region, according to one Canadian government researcher.

The importance of local wild roses emerged over a nearly 20-year experiment concentrating on the yellow-breasted chat, a tiny bird whose characteristics and precarious status have preoccupied scientists for decades.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the population at one breeding site on the grounds of the Okanagan Valley’s En’owkin Centre stood at just one pair.

Today it’s grown to roughly 22 pairs, a phenomenon Environment and Climate Change Canada researcher Christine Bishop largely attributes to the rejuvenation of wild roses in the area.

Bishop said human appetite for shoreline development, combined with livestock grazing, led to the depletion of the prickly wild rose bushes she described as providing the birds’ ideal nesting conditions.

“They nest in forests along shorelines. And that’s one of the key reasons why population declined,” she said. “Everybody wants to develop or live near waterfront. … It’s definitely a habitat that’s under threat continually.”

Bishop said yellow chat populations exist beyond the borders of the En’owkin centre, but have been all but eradicated in Ontario and go largely unmonitored in the Prairies. Bishop estimated B.C.’s total yellow chat population at about 250 pairs.

Environment Canada teamed up with the En’owkin Centre — an Indigenous post-secondary institution — and the Nature Trust of B.C. to try and revitalize chat populations in the southern Okanagan Valley.

They fenced off about 70 kilometres along a stream, resulting in 455 protected hectares.

The results allowed previously trampled wild rose plants to regrow, Bishop said, linking their regeneration to the spike in local yellow chat pairs.

“This is a success story,” she said.

Bishop said the birds’ preferred habitat in B.C. is wild rose bushes along shorelines with willow and cottonwood forests.

Sometimes they nest in habitats with poison ivy as long as it is intermingled in a thicket of wild rose, she added, noting humans don’t often recognize such environments for the vital wildlife habitats they are.

“A lot of times people see these sites with a young willow, cottonwood, and a thicket of rose and other shrubs and they just don’t think of it as a forest because they don’t see it as big huge ponderosa pines and so on,” she said. “And they don’t understand that this type of thicket … is not only used by chats, but many other birds as well as wildlife as cover and food sources.”

Bishop said chats have provided no end of scientific puzzles over the years, a fact even reflected in the species name.

Chats produce about 40 distinctive sounds, including imitations of other bird calls and sounds Bishop likens to car horns, but can’t be classified as songbirds because they don’t sing.

She said their vibrant yellow hue prompted researchers to categorize them as warblers for decades, but that classification was undercut by their roughly 25-gram weight, more than twice the size of an average bird of that type.

“In 2017, they actually created its own family. And it’s the only species in that family, because it cannot be classified,” she said.

Chats also boast ultraviolet tints in their plumage, which are invisible to the human eye but can help male birds attract mates.

The males are also known to put on a distinctive display when allowed to enjoy their preferred shoreline forest habitats, she said.

“They dangle their feet and then they make this sort of honking sound,” Bishop said with a laugh.

“And they’re flapping slowly … dangling their feet and the females down below are watching this and judging his performance.”

Researchers are also concerned about the effects of climate change on the chat’s habitat.

The watercourses will change into grasslands if it gets too dry in the Okanagan, making it unsuitable for these birds, Bishop said.

They might move to higher elevations if it gets too hot in the valley but that might not be the right habitat for them, she noted.

“So even though we see it as a great success story in terms of expansion of the population so far, the next 20 years will tell us whether or not the population will be able to survive.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Wildlife

Just Posted

Dooris Raad was last seen in South Surrey’s Ocean Park neighbourhood on June 7. (Surrey RCMP photo)
(James Smith photo)
North Delta crime beat, week of May 31

A selection of property crimes submitted weekly by the Delta Police Department

The Lower Mainland Green Team and students from Earl Marriott Secondary remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park. (Contributed photo)
Green Team returns to White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park to monitor previous work

Environmental volunteers, South Surrey students remove invasive species

People were lined up around the fields at a drop-in vaccine clinic at Newton Athletic Park on Tuesday (April 27, 2021), which is one of the high-transmission neighbourhoods that are being given vaccine priority. This clinic was one of at least three to open in the city on Tuesday. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey’s weekly cases continue to drop, push for 80% vaccination rate citywide

BCCDC reports 263 cases for Surrey the week of May 30 to June 5

Friends of Bear Creek Park held a ‘yellow-ribbon event’ on Saturday (June 12, 2021), with protesters at 84th Avenue and King George Boulevard and 84th Avenue and 140th Street. People were asked to tie a yellow ribbon in their yard “to celebrate and to show support for our trees in Bear Creek Park.” (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Protesters hold ‘yellow-ribbon’ event at Surrey’s Bear Creek Park

People asked to tie a yellow ribbon in their yard to ‘show support for our trees’

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read