Researchers using 'whale breath' to study endangered orcas off B.C. coast
VANCOUVER — Researchers are hoping the exhaled breath of killer whales living off the coast of British Columbia can provide some insight into the endangered animals' health.
A trio of two-week old orphaned chimney swifts that were flown by plane to Quebec as part of a rehabilitation effort, got their start here in Pictou County.
The endangered baby birds were brought to the New Glasgow Veterinary Clinic and sent to the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Hilden where co-founder and wildlife veterinarian Dr. Helene Van Doninck said they worked around the clock to keep up with the young birds’ hungry appetites.
“They were thin and they were dehydrated,” she said.
She said she isn’t sure of the details of how the birds ended up in the New Glasgow clinic but said it was particularly important that aid was given to the birds because they are an endangered species protected by federal law. Although the CWRC has successfully rehabilitated and released chimney swifts before, in recent years the Nova Scotia chimney swift population tends to migrate south in mid August, well before these chicks would be ready for release. However, chimney swifts in the Quebec and Ontario region tend to migrate much later, in September, which is why the birds were transported there.
CWRC co-founder Murdo Messer accompanied the swifts on the 4.5 hour flight to Montreal with Pilot N Paws to ensure that their dietary, temperature-controlled environment and overall health requirements were met.
Van Doninck said they’ve heard that the birds are doing well at their new home and she’s optimistic that they will have a successful release back into the wild.
She has witnessed first hand the reintroduction into the wild in the past. Last year they had some baby birds that they were able to reunite with a chimney swift flock before they went south.
The way it works is they release the birds just as a colony of swifts is circling a chimney in preparation for going in for the night. When the rehabilitated birds are released, they fly up and others immediately greet them as if to welcome them into the colony.
“They accept them readily,” she said. “It sounds kind of weird. Several broke out of the group above almost guiding them.”
New Glasgow is home to one of the largest flocks of chimney swifts. They roost in a chimney at the former Temperance Street School.
With the school closed now and the building up for sale, Van Doninck hopes that something can be done to preserve the chimney for the birds. She was involved with a similar preservation project at the Normal College in Truro.
“They’re very cool,” she said.
Did you know:
• Swifts mate for life and often return to the same chimney each year to nest.
• Swifts migrate south every winter to the upper Amazon River in Peru, Brazil and Northern Chile.
• Chimney swifts prey on flying insects such as mosquitoes and flies.
• Once they leave their roost in the morning they don’t stop flying until they return at night.