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Déjà vu all over again: Species at Risk and the Trans Mountain Pipeline review process

Déjà vu all over again: Species at Risk and the Trans Mountain Pipeline review process

VICTORIA, CANADA - July 22, 2019 While it’s usually considered bad form to be overly celebratory about the filing of a lawsuit, from time to time environmental defenders do need a healthy sense of humour. A case in point arose last week, when BC Nature was forced once again to challenge the adequacy of the National Energy Board’s (“NEB”) review of the impacts of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (“TMX”) on species at risk. To this end, its lawyers at the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation Law Corporation (CELL), filed motion materials at the Federal Court of Appeal, asking it to overturn federal Cabinet’s recent re-approval of the TMX project. The materials themselves filled six Bankers Boxes (see photo). They document in painstaking detail what BC Nature has been saying all along throughout this flawed review process: namely, that as regulator, the NEB has a solemn legal duty to all species listed under the Species at Risk Act (“SARA”). Among other things, this duty requires it to properly and fully consider how projects may impact such species and what can be done to mitigate project-related impacts; a duty, we say, it completely failed to discharge in relation to the listed marine bird species that are likely to be severely impacted by a marine oil spill. The TMX process is not the first time BC Nature has been thrust into the role of making these arguments. This week’s filings are strikingly similar to what BC Nature’s lawyers told the joint review panel in the Northern Gateway hearings back in 2012. BC Nature first became involved in the TMX review process in 2014, as a joint intervenor with Nature Canada in the NEB’s original hearing process. Cabinet initially approved the TMX project in 2016, but the Federal Court of Appeal set aside that approval in 2018 in its landmark Tsleil-Waututh decision. The Court held that the NEB had failed in its duty to consider the project’s impacts under federal environmental assessment law, and to protect SARA-listed species. As a result, the NEB was required to reconsider the project’s impacts on marine species. BC Nature and Nature Canada participated in the reconsideration hearing to ensure the project’s impacts on vulnerable bird populations were properly assessed. The NEB’s reconsideration report was sent to Cabinet in February 2019. For SARA-listed species, the persistent failure of federal regulators to grasp the basic fundamentals of their environmental assessment responsibilities brings to mind Stephen Hawking’s wry observation that “life would be tragic if it weren’t funny”. In the words of Chris Tollefson, CELL’s executive director and longtime legal counsel to BC Nature and Nature Canada,

“The Federal Court of Appeal was crystal clear about what the NEB needed to do to satisfy its obligations under SARA to protect marine birds and other listed species adversely affected by this project. It is unfortunate we have to go back to court to ensure these species get the benefit of the law as it was written and intended.”

Perhaps one day, like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, we’ll find to our amazement that the seemingly endless loop of regulatory indifference to species at risk has been broken. Until then, we will all need a well-honed sense of humour (and history). BC Nature is a Nature Network partner and please visit their home page to learn more about how to support their Lawsuit and other efforts.  

Motus Tag Trip a Success!

Motus Tag Trip a Success!

[caption id="attachment_51343" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Alex Bencke, Aly Hyder Ali, Vanessa Fiore, Ted Cheskey, Saeedeh Bani Assadi, Nancy Furber and Rick Ludkin[/caption]

Nature Canada’s own Ted Cheskey, Aly Hyder Ali, Vanessa Fiore, and Alex Bencke visited the properties of three Purple Martin stewards in Southwestern Ontario to check up on the status of their birds from July 8 to 12. They started the trip by meeting up with Saeedeh Bani Assadi, a PhD student from the University of Manitoba, and headed to Mitchell’s Bay, Ontario, the first site on their week-long deployment trip.


What is Motus Tagging?

The Motus (Latin word for movement) Wildlife Tracking System is a program of Bird Studies Canada in partnership with Acadia University that can track the movement and behaviour of small flying organisms across a wide range of landscapes. This is accomplished by mounting individually coded radio frequency tags (or “backpacks”) onto birds, and the signals emitted from the tags are then detected by receiver stations across Ontario and elsewhere. In simpler terms, Nature Canada made use of the Motus system last week to help us track Purple Martins when they leave their nesting colonies so that we can better understand their movements and what threats they might be facing.  

Why Purple Martins?

Purple Martins are a species of conservation concern because they are classified as aerial insectivores, a class of birds that has been shown to be the fastest declining of all bird groups in Canada since 1970. We have been working to help recover populations of Purple Martins for the past five years.     [caption id="attachment_51388" align="alignright" width="340"] © Jeremy Wolting[/caption]   This species needs our help in particular because, over time, they have become 100 percent dependent upon human-built housing for their nesting habitats east of the Rocky Mountains. This means that we as humans are responsible to look out for them and to help ensure their survival.


Motus in Action:

Our team began by carefully observing the housing units, waiting for adult Purple Martins to enter their nesting cavities. Once a bird entered the unit, they pulled a thin string that dropped a trap door over the entrance hole, closing off the entrance, and trapping the adult inside. From here, the “condo” was lowered, and the adult bird was extracted, placed in a cloth bag and carried to a sheltered table where it was weighed, measured, banded and fitted with a small radio transmitter to its back. At each site, the goal was to capture and deploy about 15 to 20 tags on a mix of adult birds and nestlings that were between 16 and 22 days old.  Ideally, they aimed to deploy tags on entire family groups (both parents and 3 to 5 young).

The transmitter weighs about half a gram, less than one percent of the birds' weight, and they don’t slow the bird down or impede in any way on the bird’s life. The data (detections registered at the receiver stations), is collected remotely in a contact-free manner, and the tag harness often falls off on its own after several months, “We would not use a technology that would cause cause a bird to behave abnormally.” said Ted Cheskey, Naturalist Director of Nature Canada.    

What We Did:

Tuesday morning’s work started at 7am, when the team began to collect the birds from their housing units and carefully equipped them with the tiny “backpacks.” A reporter for Chatham Daily News, Ellwood Shreve, joined the crew at 11:30am and covered the happenings in a wonderful descriptive article.  The deployment was very successful with 18 tags on three entire families.

That evening they traveled near Port Burwell where they met with the landowner of Fairnorth Farms, Kathryn Boothby, to plan for the next day. The following morning began like the previous, with work finishing up around noon. CBC London Morning’s Kate Dubinski did a live interview of Ted before also interviewing the team and creating a story about the project on the CBC website. They successfully deployed sixteen tags at Fairnorth Farm. Wrapping up the third day, the group headed to Ruthven Park near Cayuga to get organized for their final day of trapping and tagging. It was the next morning that offered the most challenges, the adults were not interested in entering the nesting cavities so the team settled with tagging juveniles, but determined not to miss an opportunity, planned to return at midnight when they hoped some of the adult birds would be resting. The team practiced moving slowly in unison so as not to scare the birds away at night, and when they had finished rehearsing, they drove to visit a roost in Dunneville until nightfall. Returning to Ruthven, they set up and began their night capture. They were more successful this time, capturing three of the adults. The group wrapped up work around 2am and headed back to their lodging for the night. Eager for a moment to relax, and inspired by their eerie and inspiring surroundings, Ted suggested that they watch the Michael Jackson “Thriller” music video before walking back to their residence. Tired but full of smiles, the team left Cayuga the next morning and returned to Ottawa, ready to share their progress with the rest of Nature Canada’s staff.  

"The tags will help us answer questions about what they do when they leave their colonies, because there's a time gap between when they leave their nests and when they leave for Brazil. We know they use these very large roosts at night, and there is one near Dunnville where  thousands of birds gather. They stop over, fatten up, and prepare themselves for migration. These need to be well managed and protected.”

–Ted Cheskey

  [caption id="attachment_51418" align="aligncenter" width="546"] © Henry Wolting[/caption]  

We are very excited to continue our work with the campaign, and have many upcoming events to inform others of the cause, including one in Lambton, Ontario on Saturday July 27!

Photos courtesy of Nature Canada's Alex Benke, with contributions from Henry and Jeremy Wolting

News Articles:

Radio transmitters track movement of purple martins


Researchers hoping small Purple Martin birds can offer up big answers

Calendar Image Fathom Five Marine National Park
Flowerpot Island - Kyle Noonan

Calendar Image Fathom Five Marine National Park

[caption id="attachment_49699" align="aligncenter" width="940"] Flowerpot Island - Kyle Noonan[/caption] Fathom Five National Marine Park is spectacular. Established in 1987, it is the first of its kind.  Located along the Bruce Peninsula National Park, this archipelago is an extension of the Niagara Escarpment. Crystal clear waters, shipwrecks and the iconic pillars of ancient rock formations, dubbing this island with its flower pot title.  It sounds as if it could be a destination spot somewhere in the Caribbean, but, it's our Ontarian gem. Located 6.5 kilometers from Tobermory Harbour, Flowerpot Island is the only island in the Fathom Five to have camping, trails and facilities. An incredible place to visit, but it's recommended you plan well for it!

Ontarian Orchids

This sheltered oasis is ideal for anyone who enjoys exploring Canada's many natural environments. Incredibly, this area hosts one of the most diverse, rare and exotic collection of native orchids. There are 60 known species of orchid in Ontario, 43 of which are located on the island. The Calypso Orchid is one of the more common flowers to discover here, but it is still very rare. Parks Canada recommends viewing from a safe distance to preserve their sensitive nature. Tourists flock here to gaze at the wonders the island holds and in turn, a third of the orchids have been destroyed. Being a very particular flower, solitude is what benefits these plants the most. [caption id="attachment_49696" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Calypso Orchid-unsplash[/caption] Orchids and stunning views are just the start of what this little island has to offer. Rare ferns, stunted white cedar and 420-million year old dolomite cliffs express the dynamic textures of the area. Also, once a passageway for ships, this diverse paradise has over 20 sunken ships to explore below the clear waters. There is an incredible amount of activities for nature lovers alike, but not to worry, the only animals on this remote island are mainly red squirrels and garter snakes. You won't need to fear running into a bear, but you will need to be mindful of the cliffs! So, whether the diving, hiking, viewing or camping draws you here, it's highly unlikely you'll leave disappointed. Not only is it ecologically rich but it holds a wealth of history  as well. With mid 19-century lighthouses still standing you can truly step into the past and absorb what cultured corners Canada has tucked away. All of this for us to enjoy, Flowerpot Island is a must on anyone's adventure bucket-list.

Wildlife Curiosities

Wildlife Curiosities

Nature is full of surprising curiosities. Some are bizarre, others are merely astonishing, but all are fascinating and inspire us with awe. Here are some examples:

  • One-quarter of mammals are bats. There are more than 1,300 species of bats in the world. In Canada we have 19 species; 11 are on the endangered list. A single Little Brown Myotis can catch around 1,000 mosquito-size insects in one hour. White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats across North America. Pesticides and wind turbines haven’t helped bat populations either. Turbines are particularly troublesome for our migratory species like the Hoary, Easter-red, and Silver-haired bats. Not all bat species hibernate in winter. Some of our Ontario bats fly south in the winter, just like birds do.
  • A Honey Bee has to travel 88,513 km and visit two million flowers to collect enough nectar to make one pound of honey.
  • A dragonfly can fly at a speed of up to 56.3 km/h, making it one of the fastest flying insects in the world. Monarch butterflies are not the only insects migrating over long distances. Each Spring and Fall Green Darner dragonflies fly across North America, travelling some 1,500 km on their five centimeter wings, fluttering from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. However, they rarely migrate in huge swarms. Dragonflies fly the routes their long-deceased great grandparents did, without communication passed from older generations. The onset of their migration appears to be triggered by changes in temperature and in the amount of daylight.
  • A female polar bear will put on over 200 pounds to prepare for her four to five month long food hiatus while she births and cares for her cubs in the den. When spring makes an appearance around March, she and her cubs will emerge from the den. Over the next two and half years, cubs will stick close to their mothers to learn all the survival tips and tricks before they take off on their own.
  • Pregnant octopuses will starve themselves in order to protect their eggs! They’ll lay their eggs and guard them for a month; they never abandon them for a second – not even to get food! If females get a little hungry, they’ll just eat one of their own tentacles. Unfortunately, once the eggs have hatched and float away, females often die as they become too weak to defend themselves against predators – the ultimate sacrifice.
  • Orcas and Bottlenose Dolphins won’t sleep for as long as a month so they can tend to their calves, which also don’t sleep for a month after they are born.
  • Every October, Eastern Pacific Gray Whales begin their two- to three-month long journey from the west coast of Canada to the safer and warmer lagoons in Mexico, where pregnant whales give birth. Calves will feed on nutrient-rich, high-fat milk for three to five months so that the little ones grow strong for the trek back to cold Canadian waters. Mothers will actually grow hungry and lose weight as their calves nurse, but they make this sacrifice, apparently understanding that the Mexican lagoons are truly the safest places for the young to grow.
Sources: Ontario Nature, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy Canada, World Wildlife Fund-Canada, Toronto Wildlife Centre, National Audubon Society, Toronto Field Naturalists, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and personal field notes Nature Notes are posted as blogs on the website of Nature Canada. Earlier editions are archived on the websites of the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre and of the Rouge Valley Naturalists.

Extinction Infographic

Extinction Infographic


Breaking News: BC Nature goes to court over Trans Mountain
Jamie Chavez

Breaking News: BC Nature goes to court over Trans Mountain

On July 8, 2019, BC Nature filed an application in Federal Court seeking judicial review of the recent federal decision to re-approve the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX). BC Nature claims that the National Energy Board (NEB) failed to properly assess how TMX would affect marine bird species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). Dr. Kees Visser, President of BC Nature, said that BC Nature is very concerned about a possible tanker spill and its disastrous effect on all marine life, especially on marine birds. The federal government initially gave its approval to TMX in 2016, but the Federal Court of Appeal set aside that approval in 2018 in its landmark Tsleil-Waututh decision. The Court held that the NEB had failed to consider the project’s impacts under federal environmental assessment law, and had failed to discharge its duties to protect listed species under SARA. Following the court decision, the NEB went back to the drawing board in so-called reconsideration hearings. BC Nature and Nature Canada both participated to ensure that the NEB properly considered the project’s impacts on vulnerable bird populations such as Pink-footed Shearwater and Barn Swallow. Unfortunately, the NEB didn’t do its job even on the second try.  Chris Tollefson, lawyer with Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (who has represented BC Nature since the original NEB hearings) added that it is unfortunate that BC Nature must go back to court to ensure these species get the benefit of the law. Ecojustice lawyers representing other BC nature and environmental groups are also going to Federal Court asking for judicial review of the federal decision to approve TMX based on the inadequate NEB assessment of impacts on Southern Resident Orcas.

The Trans Mountain Expansion project is bad for nature, but on Tuesday the federal government announced that it will be built regardless. Nature Canada and BC Nature have intervened in two sets of National Energy Board (NEB) hearings in 2015 and 2018, citing expert evidence that oil spills from project-related tankers would cause unacceptable impacts on marine birds and their habitat. The National Energy Board is supposed to carefully consider the evidence and provide recommendations on national projects. But the board completely ignored our evidence four years ago. It did so again in the reconsideration hearings ordered by the Federal Court of Appeal last year. The Board understood that the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision required them to address marine bird species at risk--and other listed wildlife species--potentially affected by marine shipping.  

No consideration for at-risk marine birds

In particular, the National Energy Board committed to employing a species-specific approach to assessing the impacts on marine bird species at risk. They failed to do so despite the evidence cited by nature groups in the hearings. Their reconsideration report is entirely silent when it comes to their conclusions about the impact the project could have on at-risk marine birds. This is particularly troubling given the expert evidence provided by Anne Harfenist on behalf of Nature Canada and BC Nature. “Recent studies show that marine bird population declines in the area continue," noted Harfenist in her written evidence. She also noted changes since the 2015 hearings in the “at risk” status of six bird species present in the area. Specifically the Pink-footed Shearwater (endangered); Barn Swallow (threatened); Bank Swallow (threatened); Western Grebe (special concern); and Horned Grebe (special concern). Assessment of the effects of Trans Mountain expansion on these newly listed species at risk is required by law but still was not done. The National Energy Board also failed to assess the effects of routine TMX-related tanker operations (i.e., vessel collisions and sensory disturbance) on marine bird species a risk.  

Oil tankers in the Salish Sea are risky for nature

The pipeline expansion would increase Edmonton to Vancouver pipeline capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day, and result in oil tanks moving almost daily through the Salish Sea past critical habitat for marine birds and mammals. The Salish Sea has powerful winter storms and narrow curving channels. Increasing oil tanker traffic carrying bitumen will increase the risk of a catastrophic oil spill. It will also create significant noise disruption to the already endangered Southern Resident Orcas on a daily basis. Nature Canada and BC Nature was represented at both sets of National Energy Board hearings by Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (Pacific CELL) lawyers Chris Tollefson and Anthony Ho. It is unfortunate that the federal government has approved the Trans Mountain Expansion project (albeit with conditions) based on the shabby work of the National Energy Board. Clearly, not enough consideration was given to what would be best for at-risk species and nature. A bright spot is that Bill C-69, expected to be passed by the Senate soon, would ensure that impact assessments of any future pipelines or oil tanker projects would be carried out by an independent panel and not the Canadian Energy Regulator (the successor to the NEB under Bill C-69). To read more, read recent media articles from CBC News and The Globe and Mail.

Reaping the Rewards: Purple Martin Housing a Success!

Reaping the Rewards: Purple Martin Housing a Success!

Imagine concerned citizens and nature organizations teaming up to increase the population of a declining migratory bird species. This is the reality here at Nature Canada through the Save Our Swallows campaign, generously funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. This past spring, Nature Canada provided state of the art Purple Martin housing units to nine enthusiasts who we selected from across Ontario to provide habitat for the largest member of the swallow species in the province, a species that is declining quickly. Since delivering and installing the units, we followed up with these individuals to report on their successes, as well as some of the challenges they’ve faced.     As we are well into breeding season, we are happy to report that at least one pair of Purple Martins occupies each of the housing units we provided. Two stewards reported that their units were occupied by mid-April, and the first eggs were laid in late May, with the first hatchlings arriving by mid-June.       This initiative not only provided valuable nesting habitat for Purple Martins, but also engaged entire communities in Purple Martin conservation. One steward, Rob Buchanan, distributed some of the housing units he received from Nature Canada to community members who were interested in becoming stewards themselves.     He has informed us that, “since putting up the new housing, it has created a huge interest in [his] area, and [he] could easily distribute five more houses if this program was offered again.” One of his recipients, Arlene, reported that the housing has “brought so much joy to the people that come to [her] barn and sit to watch [the birds].” The Save Our Swallows team is delighted to hear of these successes, and we hope to continue to inspire a love for species conservation and stewardship.

House Guests

Two Purple Martin stewards have reported that Tree Swallows are also nesting in their Martin homes. Meanwhile another recipient, Arik McBay, reported that an entire Tree Swallow family has fledged several young already, having posted this on his Instagram @rootradicalcsa. Tree Swallow use of Purple Martin housing is a successful outcome that we are happy to see, but fortunately Arik has also relayed that he has a pair of Martins that have taken up residence alongside them.   There have been a few challenges along the way, with some stewards saying that European Starlings and House Sparrows are nesting in their compartments. While House Sparrow occupation is occasionally an issue with Martin housing that stewards should address, we were surprised to learn about the Starlings since all of the housing is outfitted with Starling-resistant entrances.  Clearly, we’ve been outsmarted by some Starlings and need to figure out a response.   It is best not to let Starlings or House Sparrows establish nests in your housing units, so if you see them, dispose of the nest to deter them from returning. Starling nests can be identified by the blue/green colour of their eggs, typically with brown dots all over. On the other hand, sparrow eggs are typically white and also covered in brown dots.  
  Ultimately, Nature Canada’s housing giveaway has shown great success and this project is contributing to the conservation of Purple Martins in many ways. It is increasing the availability of safe, high quality nesting habitat to increase the Purple Martin population, and is inspiring local communities to get involved in the habitat restoration of these magnificent birds.  

For more information on the SOS campaign, click here.

Nature Canada congratulates governments on new agreement for South Okanagan protection

Nature Canada congratulates governments on new agreement for South Okanagan protection

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was joined by B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman, Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band and Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band for the announcement on Tuesday. Together, they presented working boundaries and a memorandum of understanding to negotiate the creation of the new park. The park reserve will be co-managed with the Sylix/Okanagan Nation. “This announcement is a proud moment for Canada,” said Bob Peart, board chair of Nature Canada. “Congratulations are due to all three levels of government on this achievement.” The South Okanagan-Similkameen is a unique landscape of dry grasslands and open ponderosa pine forests in southern British Columbia. It is home to more endangered species than anywhere else in the province, including the Flammulated Owl, Great Basin Spadefoot Toad and Lyall’s Mariposa Lily. For over 15 years, First Nations, individuals, and local groups including the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Network have been fighting for the protection of this area. Today, their efforts are finally being rewarded. “We've been working relentlessly towards this goal because this is truly a remarkable ecosystem. It is a special place for both the people and the endangered plants and animals who live here,” said Peart. Negotiations will now begin to finalize the boundaries and the formal agreements required to make the area into a park reserve. “The government will need to move with urgency to purchase private lands for the park reserve. We also look towards future negotiations to ensure more robust protection for the White Lake and Vaseux Lake federal lands,” said Peart. Nature Canada’s recent petition to protect the South Okanagan-Similkameen received over 4,500 signatures from Canadians spanning coast to coast. This is in addition to the 19,000 signatures collected in campaigns since 2002. In that time our organization helped mobilize Canadians alongside other conservation groups. “Today’s success is proof of what is achieved when we stand together for nature,” said Gauri Sreenivasan, Director of Campaigns. “Canada faces an urgent challenge to stave off species loss and extinction. The creation of new protected areas, co-governed with local First Nations, is our best bet to prevent more loss.” When the South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Reserve is created, it will bring Canada a step closer to the UN target of protecting 17 per cent of our lands and inland waters by 2020.


For more information contact: Haley Ritchie 613-562-3447, ext. 252 Header photo by Tim Gage. Flammulated Owl photo courtesy of Dave Menke, USFWS.

Opportunity to support Indigenous reconciliation dies in the Senate

Opportunity to support Indigenous reconciliation dies in the Senate

Bill C-262, a private member’s bill to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), was scuttled last week. A few rogue Senators killed the bill despite it passing final reading with overwhelming support in the House in May 2018. The opposing Conservative Senators maintained that the legislation could have unintended legal and economic consequences. Despite a campaign mounted by the bill’s sponsor, Cree NDP MP Romeo Saganash and many other supporters, it ultimately died in the Senate with several other bills. While Conservative Senators played stalling tactics, trading on fears of the bill’s impact, Canada has lost the most important impact of all. What the new legislation was actually intended to do was ensure that Canada’s laws are in harmony with the UNDRIP. The declaration represents the biggest step forward for Indigenous Peoples of the world in modern times.  It aims to recognize the fundamental rights of Indigenous People throughout the world to their land, their culture and their customs. It also acknowledges the damage done to Indigenous Peoples by colonialism.

It sets a framework for reconciliation and the restoration of cultures and languages.

It sets a framework for harmony.

When UNDRIP was first adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, only four countries opposed it – the United States, Australia, New Zealand and yes, shamefully, Canada. In 2010 the Canadian Government endorsed the UNDRIP but refused to ratify it. Our current government finally ratified it in 2016, but has struggled with their promise of implementing it. Implementing the UNDRIP means taking it seriously, by harmonizing laws and policies with it and making it a framework for reconciliation. That dream inspired the private member’s bill from MP Saganash. Most private member’s bills don’t see the light of day, but this one made it through first, second, and third readings, had the full support of the government as well as many opposition MPs (though not Conservatives), and by all accounts, had a legitimate shot at passing and becoming law. In April, a motion calling for the speedy passage of the bill into law received support from all sides including Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and many Conservative MPs. Many human rights and religious leaders mounted campaigns for its passing. How disappointing and troubling that Bill C-262, which was so carefully worked through our democratic process, was scuttled in the unelected Senate.  Nature Canada has committed to advance reconciliation and the rights of Indigenous Peoples within the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  

Swallows Sending an SOS

Swallows Sending an SOS

Since 1970, the populations of Aerial Insectivores (birds who feed by catching insects in flight) have declined more than any other bird group. Studies in Europe and the Caribbean point to significant declines in insect populations, and species like the Barn Swallow or Purple Martins are struggling to find food. Pesticides to subdue insect populations have played a huge role in modern agriculture since the Second World War, and it seems its effects are catching up to our flying insect-dependent birds. The North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) in Canada, which includes Nature Canada, recently released the second State of Canada’s Birds report. In this report, we showed how the populations of Canadian bird groups have changed since 1970, and for aerial Insectivores, it is not promising. [caption id="attachment_50727" align="aligncenter" width="642"] Barn Swallow Perching[/caption]

What's Happening?

Neonicotinoids (Neonics) are the latest widely used family of pesticides that appear to also be destroying non-target insect populations and, by extension, the species that feed on them-including our swallows! When there isn’t enough food, reproduction decreases and the population of a species can’t keep up with the mortality rate, resulting in a declining population. Add in the effects of climate change, collisions with human structures and inadequate breeding habitats, and we have a recipe for disaster. Climate change is also, among many other things, negatively impacting aerial insectivores. Birds time their migrations and breeding cycles to line up with food availability. Fluctuations in our formerly consistent weather patterns, due to the changing climate, is making their survival difficult since there is often no longer a reliable food source at migratory stopovers (when these birds need food the most). The natural cycles of migratory birds (or, their internal clocks) are not adapting to the changes fast enough. Through Nature Canada’s Save our Swallows campaign, we have developed simple beneficial practices for rural residents in southern Ontario to follow. If you live in a rural area, consider adopting some of these practices yourself and sharing them with your neighbours. [caption id="attachment_50735" align="aligncenter" width="659"] A young Purple Martin[/caption]

Purple Martins

Purple Martins, the largest member of the swallow species, have a close relationship with humans that started in pre-colonial times when they got used to nesting in gourds hung up to dry by Indigenous peoples.  Now, they are 100 percent dependent upon human-built housing for their nesting habitats east of the Rocky Mountains. This means that we as humans are responsible to look out for them and to help ensure their survival. As part of our Save Our Swallows (SOS) campaign, we are committed to improving the southern Ontario breeding habitats for Purple Martins. With the support of the Ontario Purple Martin Association, we are providing 30 “condos” that can support 14 families in each, placed along Lake Erie and eastern Lake Ontario. [caption id="attachment_50723" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Example of a bird housing unit, or "condo"[/caption]

What Now?

Aerial insectivores like swallows play a huge role in keeping our forests and farms healthy by eating insects that damage crops and vulnerable plants. With your help, we can continue working with farmers to encourage responsible land stewardship. Birds of prey such as the Bald Eagle have recovered since the USA and Canada banned indiscriminate DDT use in the 1970s. This is proof that by spreading awareness of this critical issue, we can change the trend for swallows. Help our birds however possible. You can share Nature Canada’s posts, donate to support the cause, sign the petition, or even fight to advocate for more protected areas. Every effort adds together, and there is proof that conservation efforts work. With just a little cooperation, we can save our birds.  


When we take action together, conservation works.


How You Can Help:

Sign the Petition: Nature Canada is working to create more protected areas in Canada to save our birds, aquatic animals and other endangered wildlife. Sign our petition to create real change and have your voice heard by our government when it matters most.  Speak Out: Use your voice to demand action from our government against broad-scale pesticide use and support organizations that advocate for nature. You can start by sharing our petition on social media! Donate: Make a one-time or monthly donation to support our work, and join our email list to receive notifications of upcoming campaigns and our current issue-focus. Every little bit helps! Vote with Your Fork: Support sustainable range-fed beef, sustainably run farms and choose produce that is organically grown. Also, avoid mass-produced “big batch” products that increase product demand and food waste by supporting local small batch businesses.     View the NABCI in Canada Report Here: Le Rapport est Disponible en Français Ici:

Want to Help?

Canada’s wilderness is the world’s envy. It’s our duty to keep our true north strong and green.