Hitchhiking Birds ( James Bay & Akimiski Island )

by Peter Metatawabin
(Toronto, Ontario)

I've been trying to tell my story about the hitchhiking birds since the 1970s and the idea of birds riding on geese has never been discussed by Ornithologists. But it has been mentioned by John K. Terres, a well-respected naturalist and Kit Howard Breen in her book, The Canada Goose 1990.

Bird Experts may know all there is about the mysteries of bird migration but something has been going on in James Bay for many years during the spring hunts. The bird mystery is known to the Native Peoples (Cree) of Attawapiskat, a northern community which is accessible by plane only. The phenomenon only happens in spring,not in fall. Birds leave for the south after nesting in late July and early August,way ahead of geese.

Bird Experts will argue small birds and geese migrate at different times of spring by weeks,even months and it is very true. But even then, rare incidents of brown birds flying off from downed Canada geese have been reported by Cree hunters. And it has happened in still winter-like conditions when some Canada geese go north early ( mid-april) when there's still snow and ice in rivers and lakes.

Most surprising of all, small species of birds,like warblers and kinglets have been hitching rides on Lesser snow geese, which are known to fly very high. The birds are protected from the cold tucked inside the scapulars feathers of geese. Snow geese will arrive after the Canada geese,usually in late April and early May.

Patrick Tookate of Attawapiskat, who is my nephew, shot a lesser snow goose which carried a tiny yellow bird inside its' scapular feathers. It happened in Akimiski Island during the spring hunt of 1997. In the 1960s, an Elder reported a small bird falling off the snow goose he had just shot and it happened in Akimiski Island.

If you can scan the satellite map images of James Bay and Akimiski Island, you will see it is very isolated and remote. Snow geese are known to fly very high and travel long distances on their migration flights. Patrick's bird came from the south somewhere, either from the Mississippi flyway or the Atlantic flyway.

It is sad the mystery of the hitchhiking birds is still in a " lost world", not known to the people in the South. I do not know why Bird Experts would scoff - after all, the phenomenon is Mother Nature at her very best. The only way to know would be for researchers to collect scapular feathers of both Canada and Snow geese to analyze in labs for traces of bird urine or excrements.

I do not wish to take credit for the report of the hitchhiking birds- it goes to the Cree Elders and the People of Attawapiskat.

Peter Metatawabin

Thank you Peter for sharing this wonderful story. No doubt, there is still much we do not know about nature's kingdom. Maybe the smaller birds really do hitchhike!

Last February I went to Mexico to view the monarch butterflies that winter there every year. These tiny creatures fly thousands of miles to the exact same spot where their great-grandparents wintered. How can they possibly know where to go? How do manage to fly that far?

Thank you again.

Comments for Hitchhiking Birds ( James Bay & Akimiski Island )

Click here to add your own comments

Sep 18, 2016
Response to Question about hitchhiking birds NEW
by: Peter Metatawabin

I have articles written by the late John K. Terres and Kit Howard Breen about hitchhiking birds. I would gladly forward them to you if you can email me : npmetatawabin@hotmail.com . Yours Sincerely , Peter Metatawabin

Aug 25, 2016
Question about hitchhiking birds NEW
by: Sheryl Meierotto

Mr. Metatawabin, I am very interested in learning more about hitch hiking birds. It is also mentioned briefly in "Make Prayers to the Raven," a book from the Koyukon perspective. My family is from the Upper Koyukuk in Alaska and I live and teach in Fairbanks, Alaska. Have you written about this topic and/or do you have sources I might find. Respectfully, Sheryl Meierotto

Mar 23, 2013
Spring Migration of Small Birds
by: Peter Metatawabin

Indeed, there's proof even the tiniest of birds migrate on their own during spring - so many die hitting tall structures as they fly through the city of Toronto in the nights. In spring, some snow geese will fly non-stop from the far south in the U.S., bypassing the fall staging areas, straight to the north. I do not know if the tiny birds that come with the long distance-flying geese are from one certain area or flyway. I met Native students from the Quebec side of James Bay ( Mistassini) who said the incidences with geese and small birds happened to their hunters too - and it's been going on for a long time. Only Native people are allowed to hunt geese for food in spring.

Mar 22, 2013
by: Anonymous

Spring snow goose hunting in central il. This pit had killed aprox 4000 snow geese In past two months. Have heard 4 reports of small birds falling off large flocks of geese and landing in decoy spread. Very interesting

Nov 18, 2012
Hitch-hiking birds
by: R.D. LOngmeier

On a recent cruise from New Orleans to the Caribbean
I became interested in the concept of hitch-hiking birds, observing a dozen of more sparrows that apparently boarded the ship somewhere near the mouth of the Mississippi and disembarked at Jamaica, our first port. Then later I heard about smaller birds riding on migrating geese and swan to reach their destinations. Some call it whimsical fable. I disagree. In our quest for knowledge of the creation around us, we've barely scratched the surface!

Dec 20, 2010
Thank You
by: Peter Metatawabin

Thank you, Susan, for accepting my story of the hitchhiking birds...the years has been very frustrating for me due to people scoffing. Is it fear of the mysterious or unknown? I wish I knew but to be sure I still have more to say about the mysterious world of the birds. I'll be in touch again for more stories.

Peter Metatawabin

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Got A Great Bird Story?.

Coming Soon

Recent Articles

  1. Sweettea

    May 16, 17 11:43 AM

    Yellow, small. Made nest on my porch. Think there is a male too. I live in South Louisiana.

    Read More

  2. How do I deal with chipmunks who eat all the food?

    May 15, 17 12:39 PM

    We have a good-quality squirrel buster bird feeder that works well for squirrels, but last spring and this spring we have been bothered by a chipmunk.

    Read More

  3. First sighting

    May 15, 17 12:37 PM

    May 11, 2017 I had a male and a female Rose Breasted Grosbeak show up at my feeder. The female I thought was a female house finch. The male I thought

    Read More