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Springtime Reminds us to help Protect Birds all year long
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Springtime Reminds us to help Protect Birds all year long

[caption id="attachment_36273" align="alignleft" width="150"]Ted Cheskey, click for contact information Ted Cheskey, Naturalist Director.[/caption] This was written by Ted Cheskey, Naturalist Director, Nature Canada There is nothing that says “spring” more than the song of birds, starting an hour before sunrise, waking you from your sleep, and getting you into an argument with your partner about whether bird song is a good thing or not. Well, in case you had any doubts, we at Nature Canada are on the side of the birds (and those who love them). Bird migration is part of the Canadian fabric. Every fall, nearly 80 percent of the species and over 95 percent of the individual birds leave our borders to fly south where there is adequate food and shelter to sustain them. The survivors return in the spring, when nature withdraws her cloak of snow and ice and food becomes abundant enough for the birds to raise a brood or two.   It’s an amazing, mystical phenomenon that we still don’t fully understand. It deserves celebration! Sadly, the spring chorus is not like it used to be as more and more of our bird species are pushed to the brink by human actions. A recent 2018 State of the World’s Birds Report published by Birdlife International confirms 40 percent of the world’s 11,000 bird species are in decline, and one in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction. Two Canadian provincial emblems, the Snowy Owl (Quebec) and the Atlantic Puffin (Newfoundland – Labrador) are now globally threatened with extinction. More than one-third of North America’s native bird species need urgent conservation action. Among them are the musical Wood Thrush, Bobolink, and the Canada Warbler.

Can you imagine these birds disappearing forever?

In Canada over 65 percent of designated Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas lack legal protection, leaving these areas and birds vulnerable to industrial development, intensive agriculture and urban sprawl. These factors, combined with generic threats in wintering grounds and along migration routes like domestic cats and windows, are just a few of the reasons why Nature Canada is encouraging all nature lovers to help protect birds every day for the "Year of the Bird."
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Thousands of songbirds killed at gas plant
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Thousands of songbirds killed at gas plant

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="320"]Image of a Canada Warbler Canada Warbler by JohnKormendy[/caption] Last week thousands of birds were killed after flying into a gas flare at a natural gas plant operated by Canaport LNG in Saint John, New Brunswick. It appears that the birds – most of them songbirds – were confused by the bright light emitted by the flare and were drawn to it like moths. It’s estimated that 7,500 songbirds died at the plant, cutting short their yearly migration to wintering grounds in Mexico, Central and South America. Among the birds identified at the site were red-eyed vireos, black-and-white warblers, magnolias, redstarts, and a few thrushes and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Don McAlpine, the head of zoology at the New Brunswick Museum, was quoted in a CBC News story as saying, “"A crude estimate at this stage suggests about 7,500 birds died,"  he said. "There's certainly more than 5,000 and probably less than 10,000 birds affected." In the same story, McAlpine raised the possibility that endangered species like the olive-sided flycatcher and Canada warbler, could be among the birds killed by the flare. This is very troubling news considering aerial insectivores like the olive-sided flycatcher are in steep decline in southern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. In State of Canada’s Birds, a recent report co-authored by Nature Canada, researchers in the field determined that aerial insectivores as a group have declined by almost 70% in the past forty years. Contributing factors to the decline include loss of habitat, pesticide use and pollution. Sadly, the number of birds killed every year in the United States number in the billions. The tragedy in Saint John is an example of birds dying as a result of human activity on a much smaller scale than what is playing out across the continent every year. A leading cause of bird deaths are collisions with tall buildings followed closely by predation by feral and domestic cats. If you’re a cat owner one way you can help reduce the number of birds killed every year is to keep your pet indoors, especially during dusk and dawn and during the fall and spring migratory seasons. Migrating birds and young birds just out of the nest are particularly vulnerable. For more tips on how you  can help birds during their fall migration, see our 10 Tips to Help Migrating Birds

Would you pay to reduce bird collisions with buildings?
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Would you pay to reduce bird collisions with buildings?

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="320"]Image of an ovenbird The Ovenbird which breeds across much of Canada's forested regions is a common victim of window strikes during its migration to and from Central America and the Caribbean.[/caption]

The State of Canada's Birds Report 2012 alerted us to the sobering fact that 44% of our species have declined over the last 40 years, and overall there is a 12% decline in the numbers of birds around us. Many of our migratory songbirds are experiencing significant population declines. 
Recent research from Environment Canada has confirmed that collisions of birds with homes, cottages and buildings is a major source of mortality. What are your thoughts on this issue? Would you retrofit your own home's windows to incorporate bird-friendly features, such as ultra violet light reflecting materials that are visible to birds, for example? 
A graduate student from Simon Fraser University is asking this question, and would like your help in understanding what people are thinking and doing. Are you doing something yourself? Would you personally invest in a solution? Do you feel that this issue is insignificant from your perspective?   
I encourage you to complete this survey and contribute to the understanding of peoples' attitudes toward these questions and the feasibility of finding solutions.

Marine e-Atlas is a breakthrough tool to manage the world’s oceans
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Marine e-Atlas is a breakthrough tool to manage the world’s oceans

  [two_third] Do you like maps? Then you’ll love this news. The first global inventory of important sites for the conservation of migratory marine species is being launched today at COP11 in India.  It’s called the e-Atlas of Marine Important Bird Areas, and it promises to provide essential information for a whole raft of people from conservation practitioners and policy makers, to fisheries managers and energy sector planners (think wind farms, gas and oil exploration and drilling). The e-Atlas, a product of BirdLife International, covers 3,000 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) worldwide, and 325 IBAs in Canada, including 124 marine IBAs. It is the result of six years of effort that, to date, has involved around 40 BirdLife Partners, with the world’s leading seabird scientists from inside and outside the BirdLife Partnership, in collaboration with government departments of conservation, environment and fisheries. Data on Canada’s IBAs is based in part on work of Canadian BirdLife co-partners Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada as part of our Important Bird Areas program, which aims to identify, monitor and protect a global network of IBAs for the conservation of the world’s birds and other biodiversity. In addition to the globally significant IBAs profiled in this new Atlas, we’ve identified nearly 300 other IBAs that support nationally significant bird populations. The grand total puts Canada’s Important Bird Areas at roughly 600; you can learn about all of them at www.ibacanada.ca. An e-Atlas on marine sites for migratory species, particularly birds, has been on many a conservationist’s wish-list for some time. Globally, seabirds are one of the most threatened groups of birds, though Canada is somewhat of a haven for many species. Given the vast distances seabirds cover, the long periods they spend at sea and the many threats they face there, identifying a network of priority sites for their conservation is vital to ensure their future survival. Bordered by three oceans, with the longest coastline in the world and more than 52,000 islands, Canada supports about 15 million breeding seabirds, the most common being Leach’s Storm-Petrel, Thick-billed Murre and Cassin’s Auklet. In addition, there are millions of migrants, mostly shearwaters, which breed in the Southern Hemisphere and visit Canada during our summer. According to the State of Canada’s Birds 2012 report, which Nature Canada published with several conservation partners, oil at sea, both illegal discharges and major spills, poses an increasing threat to Canada’s seabirds. Oil and gas developments are concentrated on continental shelves around Canada’s coasts, which are also the prime feeding areas for many birds and fish. While breeding, seabirds aggregate in huge colonies, sometimes more than a million birds, and these vast concentrations are extremely vulnerable to marine oil spills. The e-Atlas includes profiles on 30 sites along the Northern British Columbia coast that could be exposed to oil pollution from increased tanker traffic and an impossible-to-rule-out oil spill if the Northern Gateway Pipeline project is approved. Nature Canada and BC Nature are joint interveners in the Joint Review Panel hearings examining Northern Gateway, which proposes to carry tar sands oil from Alberta across the Rockies to the northern B.C. port of Kitimat. Giant tankers - some nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall - loaded with crude oil headed for Asia would navigate through the pristine and rugged northern B.C. coast at the rate of about one every second day. That's bad news for B.C. wildlife; the central and north coast of B.C. is a globally important area for marine birds, other marine animals and fish.

Collectively the IBAs there support approximately one half (1.5+ million individuals) of the world’s Cassin’s Auklets, about one third (0.5 million) of the world’s Ancient Murrelets, about one quarter (300,000) of the world’s Rhinoceros Auklets, and up to 10% of the global population of Pelagic Cormorants. Other breeding seabirds that exceed global importance thresholds within the Gateway project area include Leach’s Storm-petrel (up to 2% of the global population), Fork-tailed Storm-petrel (up to 3% of the global population) and Pigeon Guillemot (up to 2% of the global population).
By the way, none of the bird populations within these IBAs is acknowledged as a “key species” and potential impacts on these populations were not assessed by Enbridge in its pipeline proposal.
Several globally threatened, globally near-threatened and federally and provincially listed seabird species regularly occur as non-breeders, including Short-tailed Albatross, Laysan Albatross, Black-footed Albatross, Pink-footed Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and Yellow-billed Loon.
A spill there could cause irreversible harm to the livelihoods of many coastal and aboriginal communities and the area's unique marine ecosystems. Our experts are preparing to take part in the cross-examination phase of the hearings, which are already underway and continue through to Christmas. [/two_third] [one_third_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Pectoral Sandpiper Pectoral Sandpiper[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Tufted Puffin Tufted Puffin[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Surf Scoter Surf Scoter[/caption] [/one_third_last]

50th Anniversary of Rachel Carson’s game-changing book, Silent Spring
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50th Anniversary of Rachel Carson’s game-changing book, Silent Spring

[two_third]On this day in 1962 biologist Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring was first published and started a groundswell that may have forever changed the way we look at humankind's interactions with the environment. Many other bloggers and organizations have spent today and the weeks leading up to this anniversary detailing Carson's phenomenal contribution to environmental awareness and her role in an eventual ban on the use of 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-di(4-chlorophenyl)ethane, or "DDT", in many countries. As many will recall, DDT has significant impacts on wildlife - other than the invertebrates it is meant to kill - including being lethal to many aquatic organisms and impacting the biological process responsible for egg shell formation in the females of many bird species. An informative essay by renowned biologist Paul Ehrlich and others is available here, which addresses the impacts of DDT on North American bird species such as Brown Pelican, Osprey, Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon. In the spirit of continuing Carson's efforts to promote environmental awareness - particularly that around birds, their populations trends and the threats they face -  I'd like to draw your attention to three reports Nature Canada staff authored or had a hand in co-authoring this year. They are: The State of Canada's Birds 2012, available in English and French Birds at Risk - The Importance of Canada's Boreal Wetlands and Waterways, available in English and French and The Underlying Threat: Addressing Subsurface Threats in Environment Canada's Protected Areas, currently only available in English. [/two_third] [one_third_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="183"]Nesting Osprey Nesting Osprey - Carmen Schlamb[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="133"]Peregrine Falcon Peregrine Falcon[/caption] [/one_third_last]

Canada’s Grassland Birds Face Declining Populations
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Canada’s Grassland Birds Face Declining Populations

[two_third]
The Greater Sage-grouse is on the brink of extinction in Canada. This iconic prairie bird, known for its spectacular mating dance, will likely vanish if emergency measures are not put in place to protect its grassland and sagebrush habitat. Unfortunately, the Sage-grouse is not alone. It’s one of many grassland bird species that have been declining over the past four decades. In a recent report co-published by Nature Canada, the plight of Canada’s grassland birds is placed in the context of changing agricultural practices, urban development and international conservation challenges to bring to light the need for concerted efforts to save grassland birds and their habitat before it’s too late.
The report, The State of Canada’s Birds 2012, draws on 40 years of data and summarizes the status of Canada’s bird populations for eight regions, including the boreal forest, prairies, Arctic and oceans. It’s the result of a collaborative effort between the National Bird Conservation Initiative in Canada (NABCI-Canada), and it highlights numerous changes to bird populations in Canada since the 1970s.The report found that grassland birds including Longspurs, Meadowlarks, Sprague’s pipit, Greater Sage-grouse and others, have declined by 50% due largely to a loss of habitat. Grassland bird populations are dwindling as high-intensity farming practices like wetland drainage, conversion of pastureland to cropland and over-grazing remove and degrade grassland and wetland habitat that supports grassland bird populations in the Canadian prairies and Lower Great Lakes – St. Lawrence regions.
In addition to those factors, increasing water use by cities, construction of roads and buildings that fragment habitat, and fire suppression near towns and cities compound the problem of disappearing grassland and wetland habitat. Climate change is also an emerging threat. The predicted increase in droughts for the prairies will have severe consequences for birds and humans.
However, there are significant conservation opportunities for Canadians to ensure healthy bird populations and healthy ecosystems.
So what can be done to reverse this trend?
[separator headline="h2" title="Bird-friendly Farming"]
It might come as a surprise to some that maintaining healthy populations of birds in the Canadian prairies can be compatible with agricultural practices that form the basis of the region’s economy and culture.  But according to the State of Canada’s Birds report, there are conservation opportunities – as well as challenges – present in the relationship between ranchers and naturalists.
In the prairies, there is a need to expand farming practices that are compatible with birds. Many grassland birds – from Meadowlarks to Loggerhead Shrikes – benefit from appropriate livestock grazing to maintain their preferred habitat.
Here are a few more bird-friendly farming practices:
  • No-till farming
  • Planting cover crops such as pasture and hay that prevent soil erosion and provide nesting cover for some grassland birds
  • Reducing pesticide use
  • Delay of haying until after young birds fledge
  • Maintenance and re-establishment of hedgerows
An example of well-managed native grassland habitat can be found in the “community pastures” or PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) pastures in the prairie provinces. These pastures are vital to the survival of 31 species at risk, including some of Canada’s most endangered birds. But with the recent passing of Bill C-38, this critical habitat will no longer be managed by the federal government but instead be handed over to the provinces, which will likely sell the land to the highest bidder. As a result, grassland birds and other wildlife that depend on a healthy network of PFRAs face losing the protection and maintenance formerly provided by the federal government. This is an issue that conservationists will need to watch closely as the hand-over gets underway.
[separator headline="h2" title="Buy Bird-friendly products"]
It has been shown that consumer choices can make a positive impact on forest birds through their choice in coffee. Shade grown coffee conserves bird habitat while sun grown coffee does not. In a similar way, some South American countries can support grassland bird habitat conservation by purchasing ‘bird certified’ beef from ranches that employ bird-friendly practices.
While bird-friendly practices are one part of the solution, the report also highlights the need for urban development to progress in a direction that conserves as much grassland habitat as possible and avoids key areas for birds.
[separator headline="h2" title="Extend Protections Beyond Our Borders"]
The greatest threat for migratory grassland bird species like Swainson’s Hawk is loss of habitat both inside and outside Canada. Swainson’s Hawk over-winters in the pampas and cerrado of the Southern Cone of South America, which faces ongoing habitat loss – grasslands are increasingly being converted to agriculture, plantations or urban settlements. Effective conservation of grassland migratory bird species that Canada shares with countries throughout the Americas, requires international cooperation that ensures the needs of these birds are addressed at all phases of their life cycles.
[/two_third] [one_third_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Greater Sage-grouse The Greater Sage-grouse faces extinction due to habitat loss[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="240"]Image of a Swainson's hawk Swainson's hawk is losing habitat in its over-wintering sites in South America.[/caption] [/one_third_last]

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