Hundreds gathered in La Riviere Saturday for the eighth annual Raptor Festival, looking for the chance to catch a glimpse of the thousands of migratory birds through the Pembina Valley.
The results of a 2013 survey indicate 12,500 red-tailed hawks, 1,868 bald eagles, and 1,590 sharp-shinned hawks pass through the area during their Northward spring migration.
The event has grown exponentially over the years, attracting only around 90 in their first year to over 650 in 2018. This explosion of traffic through the small town benefits it greatly, says Raptor Fest Organizer Evelyn Janzen.
"We like to call it our little slice of heaven, a hidden gem in the Pembina Valley. But it's not just the community that benefits; it's the whole area that benefits."
The day comprises of guided bird walks around the valley, but highlights of the event is the presentations, wildlife ambassadors, and the release of a wild bird, shares Janzen.
That's one of the major driving forces for the festival, says Co-Organizer Paul Goossen, to inform the public on the numerous species that call the area home and how to conserve their habitats.
One of the groups at the event promoting education was the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program. Alex Froese, Program Director, explains they work with landowners to develop more favourable habitat, reintroducing pairs into the wild, and inform the public on this owl species.
"The burrowing owl is one of the most endangered species in Manitoba," says Froese. "Right now, less than five pairs have been found on our surveys, or reported by landowners. They are an owl that is unique to the grasslands, and they do control rodent and insect populations."
Grasshoppers are one of their favourite foods says Froese, but due to pesticides, habitat loss, and loss of burrows, the burrowing owl is in trouble.
For those interested in aiding the burrowing owl, Froese says people can take part in their dig days where they build artificial nest burrows or provide opportunities for the group to speak at events or schools.