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Snowy Owl, Amherst Island, Ontario

Ecology of Birds
in Winter 

Life in Ontario is dominated by seasonal changes in climate, punctuated by winter. The majority of bird species that breed in eastern Ontario migrate out of the region to avoid the winter conditions, but a few species remain, and others still come to the region, typically from the north. Many of these wintering species show remarkable adaptations to their cold, dark and snow-covered environment.

The goal of this course is to explore the ecology of birds in winter, examining adaptations of various species to surviving under difficult conditions. We will consider factors that limit the geographic distributions of species, particularly at northern latitudes, how species partition habitat and food resources, mixed-species flocking, the importance of food caching, large mammal kills, and roost sites, patterns of movement through the winter, and morphological and physiological adaptations to winter conditions. We will also consider the impacts of global climate change on the wintering distributions and ecology of local species.

Students will learn skills of field identification of birds, recording natural history observations, designing and conducting field studies, and analysis and presentation of results. The field course will focus on the immediate area of the Queen's University Biological Station, but will include day trips to nearby open water and congregations of birds (Wolfe or Amherst Island) and to boreal forest (Algonquin, weather permitting).

Expect, and come prepared for, extremely cold conditions and deep snow. Hiking in these conditions can be extremely difficult – students should be confident that they are in good physical condition.

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