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2018 declared the Year of the Bird

A good way to celebrate is by attending La Rivière’s Raptor Festival

This great horned owl was at the festival last year.

This year has been declared the Year of the Bird. National Geographic, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and over 100 other organizations have announced this as a way to mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This bird-protection law was passed 100 years ago, and the centennial is an occasion to recommit to this and to learn more about various species and how they live.

To learn more about birds and bird migrations — particularly hawks, eagles and owls — take in the Pembina Valley Raptor Festival held annually at La Rivière. This year’s festival, (the seventh one), is scheduled for April 21, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with most activities taking place at the La Rivière & Community Recreation Centre on Broadway Street.

The Pembina Valley is the most important flyway for raptors in the province, beginning at the end of February and lasting for up to two months. Fifteen species of raptors have been counted passing through the area. Statistics from 2013, taken by birders who count in the region, include: bald eagles numbering nearly 2,000, close to 1,600 sharp-shinned hawks, and over 12,000 red-tailed hawks. Turkey vultures and golden eagles have also been counted, as well as numerous smaller hawks.

Visitors will be able to view displays set up by nature and conservation organizations such as the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre (based in Île des Chênes ), the Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (a Winnipeg group), the Delta Marsh Observatory (with headquarters now in Winnipeg), Bird Studies Canada, the Burrowing Owl Recovery program and local groups such as A Rocha and the Pembina Valley Conservation District. Other displays will outline different tourist attractions of the area.

One of the most exciting features at the festival is the live raptors. Owls, falcons, kestrels and hawks were all present at last year’s festival, and are expected to put in a return appearance, providing opportunities for photos and a chance to talk to the handlers.

Raptors like this kestrel will hopefully put in an appearance again this year. photo: Donna Gamache

The keynote speaker for this year, with both an afternoon and morning presentation, will be Dr. Christian Artuso, Manitoba program manager for Bird Studies Canada, and an expert on owls and hawks.

One outdoor activity at the festival is the guided walking tours, led by Paul Goossen and other local naturalists, who will point out the variety of migrating hawks as well as other returning migrant songbirds. If you plan to take one of these walks, be sure to dress for the weather, and don’t forget your binoculars and camera.

One exciting open-air event last year was the release of a bald eagle, that had been rehabilitated after an injury, by the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Organizers hope another bird may be ready for releasing this year (around 10 a.m., if one is available).

For more information on the raptor festival, go to the Municipality of Pembina website. There will also be a rainbow auction and door prizes, children’s activities and a photo contest. (See the website for contest rules and categories.)

Admission to the festival is free for all ages, and the centre is wheelchair accessible. Lunch will be available at the hall canteen. For more information, see the website or call 1-204-242-3272.

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