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About me

Richard (Dick) Cannings

Dick Cannings

I am a biologist, birder and author living in the Okanagan Valley of southern British Columbia. I have the good fortune to live in the house I was born and raised in, lulled to sleep by the hoots of Great Horned Owls and woken by meadowlark song.  I grew up in a family keenly interested in nature, and it’s nice to see the cycle repeating itself.  The yard is a wonderful one-acre sanctuary for all sorts of wildlife–and for my family as well–full of old memories and filling again with new ones.

I spend half my time working for Bird Studies Canada coordinating Canadian Christmas Bird Counts, the Great Backyard Bird Count, the eBird program, the BC Breeding Bird Atlas and the British Columbia Owl Survey.  I also work as a consulting biologist, mostly on projects concerning the status of bird populations in Canada and the endangered landscapes of British Columbia.  And I spend a lot of time writing about the natural world.

Like all naturalists, I have always been concerned about the plight of species at risk, and spent eight very interesting and fulfilling years as co-chair for birds on the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.  I was a founding director of the Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance and a member of the national board of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

I have produced regular radio items on natural history themes for CBC and taught continuing education courses on birding and nature.  I’ve also led about 50 natural history tours to destinations around the world, particularly in the New World tropics. When I’m not birding, I have been known to play fiddle in a local Scottish country dance band.

My writing centres on the natural history of British Columbia and the biology of birds, including guide books, references, essays and anthologies.  I also have written the text for photographic collections of colleagues who are much better photographers than I am.

I’m on Twitter @dickcannings.

You can see a checklist of the birds of my backyard here.

I am now the Member of Parliament for the federal riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay.  My political website is here, my political Facebook page is here, and my political Twitter handle is @CanningsNDP.


58 Comments leave one →
  1. Robert Parlane permalink
    July 20, 2011 7:46 am

    I just saw a Caspian Tern amongst the gulls in City Park, Kelowna on the way to work today (20 July 2011). Are they regular visitors to the Okanagan?

    Robert

  2. July 20, 2011 9:39 am

    Robert–Caspian Terns are uncommon summer visitors to the Okanagan.

  3. August 26, 2011 1:43 pm

    Heard you on CBC Almanac a few days ago, re barn swallows & other insectivores. Have you looked into electromagnetic radio frequency radiation interference? I know it affects magnetite in bees so they lose their way home, confuses bats who don’t forage around radar, and can’t imagine why it wouldn’t affect birds. Dr. Magda Havas at Trent University is an environmental researcher who has been looking into wireless technologies for many years, see magdahavas.com

    BTW, I’m electro-hyper-sensitive myself, so can easily understand how other animals will be affected.

  4. Kevin Shackleton permalink
    September 25, 2011 10:24 am

    Hi Dick.
    Pleasure meeting you and I may even change my opinion about Newfoundlanders as a result of our discussion.
    Regards,
    Kevin Shackleton

  5. November 12, 2011 10:14 am

    Dick Cannings:
    “Wings Over Water” one day birding festival will be held this upcoming year (2012) on March 17 in Blaine Washington. This past year you had prior engagement and were not able to speak at our birding festival. What about 2012? Is your schedule open? Would you be interested? Please contact Debbie Harger (tourism) with the City of Baline at 360-332-8311 (0 for operator). Our Wings group will be listening in to your next q & a on CBC.
    Thanks for consideration.
    Eloise Nyman (Wings Over Water committee)

    • November 18, 2011 5:06 pm

      Hi Eloise: Thanks for getting in touch and I’m looking forward to seeing you March 17 in Blaine! –Dick

  6. November 18, 2011 3:28 pm

    Hi Dick:
    Unfortunately, we missed you on CBC today. Have a question about Anna’s hummingbirds. What is the best ratio of water to sugar should we be using? We live in the comox valley.

    • November 18, 2011 5:05 pm

      Hi Kim: The standard solution is 3 or 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. That matches the sugar concentration in natural nectar sources. It might be an idea in winter to use the 3:1 ratio.

  7. January 23, 2012 8:58 am

    Dick, We are very excited to have you as our featured speaker at The 10th Annual Wings Over Water Birding festival in Blaine, Washington! We will keep updating our schedule of events at http://www.blainechamber.com/wow.

  8. February 27, 2012 10:10 am

    Dick:
    I wrote to you earlier in regards to the Anna’s hummingbird. We managed to safely get them through the few cold spells we had by bringing in the feeders at night and switching out when they started to freeze up. Now for the last few days have not seen them anywhere. Is the a reason for their sudden disappearance? Thank you
    Kim

    • February 27, 2012 10:48 am

      Hi Kim:
      I can’t say for sure, but this is about the time of year Anna’s start to nest, so they might be shifting their home ranges a little bit. Hopefully they’ve made it through the winter with your help! Dick

  9. March 2, 2012 4:04 pm

    Might we entice you to give a program and/or field class in the Methow Valley?

    Hi Dick,
    Mary Kiesau here from the Methow Conservancy. I coordinate our educational outreach among other things, and I’m interested in chatting with you about the possibility of having you come to the Methow Valley this spring or summer (as early as April). I’ve known about you for many years from people who have heard you speak and/or attended field programs. You come highly recommended of course.

    I’d love to chat with you, and I can provide more details via email or phone.

    Thanks very much for your time,
    Mary

    *************************************************
    Mary Kiesau
    Methow Conservancy Program Coordinator
    509-996-2870

  10. March 9, 2012 12:33 am

    Hi Dick,

    My name is Gagan, and I edit the Squamish Reporter newspaper in Squamish. A local resident here has spotted a Norhtern Mocking bird.

    Is it a rare bird for this region ? Has it been spotted in B.C. How often is it spotted in B.C. ? How do you think it end up in Squamish ? Would it be able to find its way back ? Thanks
    Is there an email or a number where you can be reached ?

    Mine is gaganscribe@gmail.com. Thanks, Gagan.

  11. Susan permalink
    March 16, 2012 12:08 pm

    There are a pair of Great Horned Owls nesting down my driveway. I hear them – or at least one of them – at all hours of the day and night. In the day, when I step out of my house, the owl will give one call and then is generally silent. Why do they call so much? Are they trying to scare up prey at night? And, in the day, is it to give alarm when I show up? Very curious about this.

    Thanks.

    • March 17, 2012 10:08 am

      Great Horned Owls have long-term pair bonds and they call a lot this time of year because it’s nesting season and they want to let each other know where they are and who knows what else. They do not call when they are hunting–that would be decidedly counterproductive–but if the male sees you walking toward the nest he may well call to let the female know (she’s the one on the nest) so she can lie low.

  12. Kevin Hannett permalink
    March 20, 2012 10:39 am

    Hi,

    I read the article in the Kelowna Daily Courier about the annual survey. You mentioned that only one ring tailed pheasant was spotted. There is a pair of them living on my property in Rutland. In fact, last week the male walked around the corner of my house towards me as I was stepping out my door. He squawked and flew away. I’m not sure which one of us got the bigger scare! I haven’t seen the female since last fall but I hear them both all the time. There’s also a pair of great horned owls around. I hear one of them at night from time-to-time and both of them occasionally. I believe they live on the property below mine and come to hunt in my field.

  13. March 26, 2012 10:24 am

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge of birds, birding experiences and creating easy to use books. I have the Birds of Interior BC and the Rockies and it has been a great reference for birds in my area. I really like that you indicate which months are best for spotting different species and the best places to find them. Thanks Again!

  14. Addison Palmer permalink
    April 26, 2012 7:58 am

    Hello Richard, your book “British Columbia: A Natural History” is a required text for my ecology class at BCIT ! I had recognized your name, your father was good friends with my Grampa Fred Tayler, and I do believe you went to highschool with my father Stephen Palmer. One thing I would like to comment on is the publishing company butchered the book about 15 of my class mates copies have fallen apart within the first opening. I read your site from time to time and it really reminds me of being back in Penticton with my grandparents watching birds. Thanks! also I was looking for a hard copy of your book and there is not a copy to be found do you think anywhere in Penticton might have one? I could get my dad to mail me a copy down to Vancouver. Thanks again.

    • April 27, 2012 7:27 pm

      Hi:

      First, I’d suggest sending a letter to Greystone Books (Suite 201, 2323 Quebec Street, Vancouver, BC V5T 4S7) to let them know about your problems with the books. I don’t know if you could get replacements–you should, but unfortunately the book is temporarily out of print. You could search online for hard copies, but I’m not sure if that edition is still available through the new book route–you might have to try online used book searches. I’m glad you like the book!

  15. Marc Bombois permalink
    May 24, 2012 7:31 am

    Hi Dick, is it possible I’ve got a northern waterthrush coming to my suet and birdfeeders? I’m on Gabriola Island.

  16. Marc Bombois permalink
    May 24, 2012 7:48 am

    Actually I now think it’s a female redwing blackbird.

    • May 24, 2012 3:28 pm

      Yes, a blackbird is much more likely–both to visit a feeder and to be on Gabriola (waterthrushes are not generally found on the coast, and don’t really visit feders).

  17. Kim Taylor permalink
    June 4, 2012 9:43 am

    Hi Dick,
    I am going to the Manning Park Bird Blitz in a couple of weeks. I was really hoping to head to Vaseaux Lake (if I can get the time off from work) on the Sunday, or Monday in search of Lewis’ woodpeckers. Is this still a good time of year to see one? Or what would you suggest? I would love to check them off my life list!

    Kim

    • June 4, 2012 1:24 pm

      Hi Kim–this is a great time to see Lewis’s Woodpeckers in the Okanagan–check the first two kms or so of the McIntyre Creek Road that goes east off Hwy 97 at the north end of the lake.

      • Kim Taylor permalink
        June 4, 2012 3:35 pm

        My mistake, its after the July 20th weekend at Manning…..still a good time? And thanks for the info!

  18. August 2, 2012 12:21 pm

    Hello Dick,
    This is Douglas Todd. I write about philosophy and diversity at the Vancouver Sun. I’m working on a series on happiness and got your name from my friend, Dr. Eric Watts. I want your thoughts on some birding issues. Can you email at dtodd@vancouversun.com Could you do so today? Thanks
    Douglas

  19. Peter Karuna permalink
    August 29, 2012 12:58 pm

    The day after attending your talk at the ALECC conference, I photographed a bird in Penticton at around 7pm on a lawn. It is very colourful and about the size of a robin or thrush. I’m from Ontario so have no idea if this is an unusual bird; I have never seen one before. I can email you a photo if you like.

  20. James K. Finley permalink
    October 20, 2012 8:37 pm

    All Buffleheads Day Act
    Routine Proceedings

    October 17th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.

    Green

    Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

    , seconded by the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North, moved for leave to introduce Bill C-454, An Act respecting an All Buffleheads Day.

    She said: Mr. Speaker, it appears I am lightening the mood in this corner already with the news that I am presenting a private member’s bill for October 15 to be declared a national All Buffleheads Day. I bring the good news that the most punctual duck in Canada is now back. The Buffleheads travel to far-flung places, but on the 298th day of the solar cycle, like clockwork, our smallest diving duck returns. This duck puts the swallows of Capistrano to shame and is a better weather predictor than the groundhog.

    This is a wonderful duck to celebrate. All Buffleheads Day will be put forward to all members to decide whether we should mark it every year on October 15. We can come together for many things. The little Bufflehead duck is found across Canada and it is worth celebrating.

    (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

  21. November 1, 2012 8:07 am

    I appreciate that you are so accessible! I’m writing on behalf of the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve Society in Chilliwack. I suspect you’ve heard of us because dear Hazel Cannings has been one of our staunchest and most delightful volunteers.

    The reason I’m writing is to find out if you would be willing/available to speak at one of our upcoming fundraising Speakers Series Events. You would be a real drawing card! This would be on a weekday evening (at your convenience) at the Rotary Studio Theatre in the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. We would want you to speak for about 30 minutes with an opportunity for the audience to ask questions after the presentation with refreshments to follow.

    If you would be willing to support the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve Society by speaking at one of our upcoming fundraising Speakers Series Events, could you please let me know your availability and any associated costs?

  22. Jim Skelton permalink
    January 7, 2013 8:40 pm

    Writing from Los Cerritos,, Baja, Sur, Mexico: Lately, I’ve seen a flock(?) of nightjars flitting about in the dusk. Am familiar with nighthawks, but these are slightly smaller, not diving, and they are silent. About half of them have the white flash on the underside of the wings, the rest have no markings. My “Golden Field Guide to Birds of North America” shows only the Poor-Will extant in Baja, Mexico. My first thought was Common Nighthawk with immatures having migrated here. Have you any ideas?

    • January 7, 2013 9:10 pm

      Sounds like Lesser Nighthawks, Jim. The white bar can be a bit indistinct (especially at dusk) on females. Common Nighthawks winter in South America.

  23. Jim Skelton permalink
    April 29, 2013 4:53 pm

    Monday, April 29th. I saw what I figured was a sparrow. Same size. At first I thought it was a golden crowned sparrow, but the throat/chin was also yellow, stopping above breast. Actual yellow was somewhat less brilliant, hint of apricot. Crown was teardrop shape, not a streak. The feathers were more slate coloured than brown, and there was flash on the wings, not epaulets. Could have been white. View was very fleeting. located in small swampy area, about ten feet up on cottonwood branch. I’m 71, long time birder, but never seen this one. Any thoughts?

    • June 8, 2013 2:38 pm

      Jim–I’m afraid I can’t think of anything that matches this. Sorry!

    • Jim Skelton permalink
      June 8, 2013 2:44 pm

      Okay, thanks. It was quite a quick viewing.

  24. Denise Brownlie permalink
    June 8, 2013 12:38 pm

    To Dick Cannings: Did you happen to hear the cheers and watch the victory dances of all the people involved in birding, in biology and natural history as the results came in on Election Night? We were afraid that we might lose you to the murky world of politics! Yes, you would have been a fine representative in Victoria, but so many of us are happy that did not happen!

    • June 8, 2013 2:39 pm

      Denise: I actually thought I could do more for the bird and nature world from within the world of politics, however murky that world might be. Ah well, back to the old ways.

  25. Tyee Bridge permalink
    July 10, 2013 2:47 pm

    Hi Dick,
    Just bought Birdfinding in BC yesterday, looks great. Am utterly new to birdwatching & writing a short piece on my first try at urban birding. My wife and I live in New Westminster & seek the Green Heron – any advice? Burnaby Lake? Fraser shore? Deer Lake?

    I thought I saw a reference in the book to Green Herons in these parts but now I can’t find it… any advice appreciated.

    In the essay I also want to touch on recent sightings of Asian birds (re the bluetail in Queen’s Park here in January, bramblings etc) in BC and if you had any time for a short chat or email exchange about that I’d be most grateful. The piece will be appearing in Western Living magazine in the fall I believe. Again thanks for your time and any advice.

    Best
    Tyee Bridge

  26. September 14, 2013 8:02 am

    Dick I see you are coming to give a talk in Chilliwack, Oct 3. I instruct a tutorial class on Bird Photography and wish to present your coming to my group. Can you tell me how much of your talk is devoted to photography? Ken Pugh, Chilliwack.

    • September 14, 2013 8:22 am

      Hi Ken: There will be some photos of birds, but it’s a talk about my favourite birds, not touching on photography really.

  27. Jim Skelton permalink
    September 14, 2013 12:11 pm

    I have often observed different behaviour in an osprey here at Stuart Lake/Fort St James. When the lake is glassy smooth I see this one flying very low over the water, and every 100 metres or so, it appears to lower it’s talons into the lake and drag them along just below the surface. This dragging lasts several seconds, and sends up a considerable spray. I didn’t know they did this. Mind you, I observed from over 200 metres away and could be mistaken if it was its talons dragging (trolling?). Is this a regular activity in ospreys?

  28. November 6, 2013 2:44 pm

    I’ve a bit of an unusual question. I’m a reporter for the Courier and every two weeks we are profiling different Vancouver neighbourhoods. Coming up next is Vancouver-Fraserview and I’m looking into the story behind the name Bobolink Park. Apparently it was named back in the 50s after a golf course in the British Isles. I’m wondering if actual bobolink birds have ever been spotted in Vancouver. According to maps of their ranges, they don’t make it this far west but perhaps this wasn’t always the case.
    Have you ever heard of one being spotted this far west from their normal habitat? I believe the Interior is usually as far as they go
    Thanks.

    Andrew Fleming

    afleming@vancourier.com
    twitter.com/flematic

  29. Dave Gamble permalink
    February 21, 2014 3:33 pm

    Hi Dick, There is a very odd pair of ducks swimming with the Mallards in Vernon’s Polson Park pond. No sign of a match in yours or other bird books. I have a picture of them I could forward. Thanks,

  30. Catherine Po permalink
    August 16, 2014 12:14 pm

    Hi Dick, It’s Catherine Po here (your former student). I was visiting your neck of the woods with my family, a week or so ago. While they were busy wine tasting at the La Frenz Winery, I and my binos were out on the porch.

    I caught a quick glimpse of what looked like a large warbler (thrush-sized, but long talied) that briefly flew up to the top of a tree, and before I could get a really good look, it flew off again. It had an olive-grey back and bright yellow throat and chest – I would have said Nashville warbler, but huge in comparison. I just thought, looks like a warbler but too big… What the heck was that? And then when I combed through my bird book, I realized that yellow-breasted chats ranged into the Okanagan. I saw it on Aug. 6, 2014, around 11:30 am – could I have seen a chat?

    • August 16, 2014 12:40 pm

      Hi Catherine–it could have been a chat (very rare as you say, and La Frenz is not a known site), but the behaviour suggests female or immature male Bullock’s Oriole, or maybe Western Tanager. Both those species have been very common in Okanagan backyards for the past couple of weeks.

      • Catherine Po permalink
        August 16, 2014 4:28 pm

        Thanks, Dick – your suggestions make way more sense, maybe imm. male tanager or Bullock’s. I saw the back for a longer time and don’t recall seeing any black or wing bars, so that lead me down more the garden path, I guess. I did think the habitat was all wrong for a chat. I appreciate your thoughts!

        Hope all’s well with you and I’m sorry I missed your talk and book signing the last time you were in town.

  31. Brian Pate permalink
    May 14, 2015 9:28 am

    Dick, I recently bought your book “Birds of Interior BC and the Rockies”. It was a quick purchase and I bought the book because it specifically titled the Rockies. I was disappointed that the “Rockies” in your title meant the southern Rockies and missed out the northern half where I live. Do you know a good reference that covers more of the northern Rockies? Thanks Brian Pate bgpate@outlook.com

  32. Teresa Taylor permalink
    May 21, 2015 5:38 am

    I am trying to connect with a website that lets me post birds I’ve seen. On 2 occasions, May 17 and May 21/15 my husband and I have seen a Brown Pelican that we think is hanging around our neighbour’s property on Naramata Rd.

  33. Joan permalink
    June 2, 2016 7:31 pm

    I have a bird coming to my feeder with the finches. It is identical in every way to the House Finch, size, striping , wing marks, beak etc. but is gold where the house finch is red. I can’t find it in any of my books. Can you identify it? Could it be a mutation?
    Joan

    • June 4, 2016 7:25 pm

      Joan–your bird is a male House Finch. Their coloration can range from yellow to bright scarlet, apparently much of the difference can be explained by the amount of carotenes in the diet (as the birds need these pigments for the bright red coloration).

  34. Rick Hudson permalink
    January 24, 2017 9:00 am

    Saw 4 pink footed geese at Martindale Flats, Central Saanich on Vancouver Island yesterday. I know this won’t be the first notice of them – there were several birders from Vancouver across to see them* – and no I didn’t have a lens long enough to get a photo, but it was pretty cool.
    *You can always tell Vancouver birders – they show up with the Swarovski 95s.

  35. Jim Skelton permalink
    May 15, 2017 6:01 am

    Very pleased to spot a male Manadrin Duck in our creek during the latest high water. He allowed a very close approach. My neighbour thought it was a Wood Duck, but the colours were wrong. Spent his time in the backeddies of the fast flowing stream, clambering over roots and branches to work his way upstream, as he would not have been able to swim upstream.
    Also spotted what I think was a Spotted Towhee (I have always thought those were Rufous Sided Towhee.) All the markings were right, except that this one had its tail fanned way out and there were white tips to every tail feather. At first I thought it was a courtship display, but then I saw a second Towhee, and have concluded this was territorial defense action.

  36. Blair DeVeau permalink
    June 8, 2017 3:17 pm

    I live in Langley Township, and I’ve had seen what I believe is a Bullocks Oriole over the past few weeks. Yellow Head/grey body, very unique song, and on it’s own. I have never seen one before, and according to the “Merlin” app it is out of it’s normal range.

    • June 10, 2017 8:04 pm

      Hi Blair: Bullock’s Orioles are rare and local in the Fraser Valley. A few even nest on the delta around Ladner.

  37. Judie Schinz permalink
    June 17, 2017 11:01 pm

    Hi Dick – where can I buy 2 copies of Birds of Interior BC and the Rockies? Book store in Penticton is out and Amazon says out of stock

    • June 18, 2017 5:44 am

      Call my home number (in phone book) and ask my wife to check if we have any in the house. Did you check the used book store on Main Street? They usually have a few new guide books of various sorts. Or the regular bookstore in Cherry Lane.

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