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

Chemainus Secondary School 2021 graduate Nina Bumstead. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Grad ceremony proceeds, with a twist

Red carpet outside works out well for Chemainus Secondary’s Class of 2021

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

Chemainus street signs now contain Hul’qumi’num translations, like this one at the corner of Willow and Legion Streets. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Street signs go up in the Hul’qumi’num language

Chemainus intersections feature direct translations

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

CVRD to increase enforcement after audits reveal that curb-side recycling contamination in the district is well above acceptable limits. (File photo)
CVRD reports contamination in recyclables well above acceptable levels

Increased enforcement planned starting this summer

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Most Read