Out-of-season Sparrows and a Sandpiper ( 1967)

by Peter Metatawabin
(Toronto, Ontario)

We have seen birds in Attawapiskat that seemed to have arrived in the north much too soon ( mid-april ) and it is perhaps here Bird Researchers should take a look first. Some Canada geese will go north early and some hitchhiking sparrows will find themselves in dire conditions due to still winter-like conditions. But these birds, by instinct, will go back south again - in april. When Canada geese leave from the southern Ontario, it may be green grass and leaves growing but when they arrive in James Bay, it's still snow and ice in lakes, rivers. Back in 1967,it was much colder then it is now because of the global warming.

One of the amazing sighting I've seen was that of a semipalmated sandpiper in mid-april - that bird was not suppose to be in the north that soon. My brother-in-law, Alec Kataquapit and I were sitting,waiting in our hunting blind on look out for the first expected arrival of Canada geese. We saw a bird flying towards us, low over the willows at a high speed and flew past us, at least, 20 feet from us. We were astonished what we were seeing, by the time we grabbed
our shotguns, it was out of range. We would have had proof we saw a sandpiper. The bird was flying back south again at a fast speed and could have reached the southern Great Lakes overnight. Anyway, no one believed us,not even Alecs' father. Alec still resides in Attawapiskat.

I do not know if the semipalmated sandpiper is a little too big to hitch a ride on Canada geese but one Elder said it came north with a flock of Arctic Swans - they go north early. When it found itself in dire conditions, it simply flew south again by instinct. If tiny birds can hitch rides with snow geese-why not sandpipers on swans- makes sense. Both swans and sandpipers fly very high on their migration flights. I swear to bird lovers everywhere the incident with the sandpiper is true and it happened to us.
Peter Metatawabin

Comments for Out-of-season Sparrows and a Sandpiper ( 1967)

Click here to add your own comments

Jun 21, 2014
Factors why the Hitchhiking Bird Phenomenon is unknown to the South NEW
by: Peter Metatawabin

The phenomenon only occur in spring , not in fall and some birds leave the James Bay area after nesting ( late July & early August). There are still hardier birds like Juncoes and Sandpipers in October - I've seen them when I hunted Snow Geese in Moosonee ( 1972) even when there was frost and chilly but they were fat, ready to go south. Moosonee is the end of railway and farther north, ( no roads) is the hunting culture of the Muskego Cree. They are the only ones allowed to hunt geese for food during spring. James Bay is isolated from the South due to its' " remoteness" and is only accessible by plane. For Southerners, they are only allowed to hunt Snow Geese in fall ( Sept. & Oct.) When Canada Geese arrive in April, followed by Snow Geese in early May, it's not like every Goose flock will have small birds with them, actually it can be rare - one has to be at a right place at a right time but it still happens.( My sister's father -in-law was startled when a sparrow flew off from a Canada goose he had shot back in the 1960s and even he was astonished - it happened north of Attawapiskat). The bird migration occurs during the nights and from the south of U.S.A, small birds will not attempt to follow geese during daytime- seagulls can easily get small birds in the air. Some birds in the far south fly on their own to the Goose staging areas to the north like North Dakota and the Atlantic coasts. But some Snow Geese and Arctic Swans will bypass the staging areas in spring and fly straight to the north. Back in Attawapiskat in 1966-67, we have seen Canada geese arrive, flying straight into late spring snowstorms and we wondered what drives them. A small bird would not go north on its' own during that time of the early spring - it was still ice in rivers & lakes. I can see that it is understandable many would scoff. The Geese and small bird incidents have happened to many people in Attawapiskat since the '60s. I was told by one bird expert the so-called incidents of geese and bird by Natives was a farce , therefor, was a friend to friend tales. The phenomenon for me have turned out to be a curse - its been almost 50 years but despite this ,I still feel everyone should know.

Jan 13, 2014
Hitchhiking Hummingbird Debate
by: Peter Metatawabin

There's so much debate in the south about whether hummingbirds really hitch rides on Canada geese - which many consider a whimsical tale. If people really want to know about hitchhiking birds, they should look in Northern Canada ( Attawapiskat, James Bay ) for answers. The phenomenon has been going on for years and the Native Peoples living there are from the land of the geese. There are those who have never been to the far north nor have ever seen, lived , and experienced Real Nature, but believe they know any better. Migrating small birds do not ride exposed on backs of geese - they are insides the scapular wingfeathers...a clump of feathers in the wingpit area and therefore, protects from the cold spring skies. Peter Metatawabin

Dec 28, 2010
So true..
by: Jkatz

There is so much we don't know yet and always very refreshing to hear from our own native people who I am sure have alot of insight on birds we don't know about:)!!!

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?.

Two Free Ebooks!

My gifts to you when you sign up for my free newsletter: The Backyard Birder, filled with the latest tips to attract birds to your yard.

Homemade Bird Food Recipes


Ten Biggest Mistakes

In Backyard Birding

Ten Biggest Mistakes in Backyard Birding

Sign up now for your two free ebooks! Happy Birding!

Enter Your E-mail Address
Enter Your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you The Backyard Birder.