Hitchhiking Birds ( James Bay & Akimiski Island )
by Peter Metatawabin
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.
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
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.