Draining of canals brings new visitors to downtown Holyoke

A Belted Kingfisher flies over the empty bed of Holyoke’s first-level canal just after sunset Sunday evening. (c) Greg Saulmon 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how paying attention to food sources can help you find birds.

After all, the two factors that drive the annual spring and fall migrations are nesting locations and food. As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s page on migration reminds us, “Escaping the cold is a motivating factor but many species, including hummingbirds, can withstand freezing temperatures as long as an adequate supply of food is available.”

Find a plentiful food source, and you’ll probably find birds. This is especially helpful for finding birds in a city: if you were a bird, where (and what) would you eat?

Twice each year, the city of Holyoke drains its canal system for maintenance. And, I’ve noticed over the years, this subtle change always draws a few interesting species downtown. In the past I’ve seen herons and egrets. Last night, I found a Belted Kingfisher making low passes over the empty first-level canal near Heritage State Park at Appleton Street.

With the canals empty, new food sources are suddenly exposed. Birds are suddenly free to poke around in the mud and muck; any fish in the canals end up sitting ducks, trapped in the few puddles left behind. The ducks, meanwhile, can forage in the weeds that grow along the canal beds.

The canals only stay empty for about a week, so I’ve only got a few days to record my observations.

But, I’ll be keeping this in mind as we head through the rest of the fall migration and on through winter: where in this city can a bird grab a bite to eat?




  1. Lorrin said:

    Great shot! Wish you could have seen the giant red tailed hawk in Court Square yesterday – it was something else!

    • Lorrin –

      Been meaning to spend some time in Court Square watching that hawk. I think they nest in one of the vacant buildings right on the square, based on some past observations.

      Thanks for your support, as always!


  2. Steph said:

    Hello, I love your blog. If you haven’t heard, there is an owl perched at the entrance if Holyoke Health Center 230 Mapke St. It’s Oct 25. He has been there all morning in case you are nearby. Take care.

    • Thanks so much, Steph. I was able to photograph the owl both in the afternoon and when they eventually ‘rescued’ it in the evening. Pics and stories are on MassLive (and in The Republican newspaper Friday), but I’ll be posting about it here as well.

      Thanks for reading!

      – Greg

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