Back to nature: Tour of the Ellis Bird Farm.

Last weekend, my hubby and I took the 160 kilometre drive north to the city of Lacombe, Alberta, where we spent the morning picking haskap berries (more about that to come!) and the afternoon touring the wonderful Ellis Bird Farm, a haven of naturescaping just a few clicks out of the city.

Originally from Parkenham, Ontario, the Ellis family came west in 1886, and settled outside of Calgary. Son John Ellis and his new wife Agnes started homesteading in the Lacombe-Joffre area in 1907, and after they passed away in the 1950s, their children Charlie (d. 1990) and Winnie (1905-2004) took over operations of the large farm.  The siblings were both naturalists, and sought ways to make the property more wildlife-friendly.  Charlie was particularly fascinated with birds, especially the mountain bluebird, and he started building nestboxes to attract and protect this native species. His plan worked: according to the Farm’s website, there was a single nesting pair of bluebirds on the Farm in 1956, when Charlie began his efforts, and by the late 1970s, there were 60. Today, the Farm boasts the largest concentration of mountain bluebirds anywhere in Canada. Of course, it can’t hurt that there are over 350 functional bluebird nestboxes on the property and more are being collected from all over the world.

Winnie planted several gardens on the property, designed to attract birds, pollinating insects, and other wildlife. On the day we toured, everything was looking a bit bedraggled due to a severe hailstorm the night before, but there was no denying the beauty and effectiveness of the plantings: birds, bees, and butterflies were flying everywhere around us!

(Credit:  Photos #4,6,7, and 11 by R. Normandeau)


A view near the water garden (not an original installation; it was built in 1995).  At the top right of the photo, you can see one of the structures from the petrochemical plant across the road.  MEGlobal Canada has provided funding to the Ellis Bird Farm since 2004.


Just a few of the bluebird nesting boxes onsite.


Another view of the water garden.  Notice the placement of the dead tree branches – perches for birds to rest or survey their surroundings.


You can see the evidence of the large hailstones that pierced the leaves of the water lilies.


Charlie Ellis and his father John built this private grain elevator in the 1920s.  There aren’t many of these farm elevators left in the country.  It is still fully functional, although not currently in use.  It was partly re-shingled in 1996; you’ll notice some of the new construction.


We saw so many birds at the Farm and I’m pathetic at birding – I had to enlist the assistance of the wonderful forum at Alberta Birds Facebook page to ID this barn swallow.   We did see quite a few purple martins, which was pretty exciting for me – apparently the Farm is participating in a geolocation program with these beauties.  The famous bluebirds are finished nesting for the season and weren’t anywhere to be found.


Where’s Mommy?  More importantly, where’s our food?


Nooks and crannies everywhere for the wildlife….


Winnie’s Butterfly Garden.


Another view of the Butterfly Garden.


Finally, what’s a farm without an adorable little piglet?  😉


If you’re ever in central Alberta during the summer, the Ellis Bird Farm is a must-see!  If you need any further encouragement, there is a tea house….  🙂


What have you done to make your garden more wildlife-friendly?