Canada needs bird ambassadors
Early this morning, just before the first Robin spoke outside my window, I woke with an intriguing thought:
We have embassies abroad to help/serve/protect Canadians and Canadian interests. Each embassy has expertise in promoting Canadian business, helping open new markets, and so on. But there is no ambassador for our migratory birds despite the fact that about 90% of all birds born in Canada migrate to other countries for five to seven months each year.
Our birds are like “foreign nationals” in USA, Mexico, Nicaragua, Columbia, and Brasil, by the tens, even hundreds of millions. Of landbirds alone (not including waterbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls and terns, etc) over one billion birds migrate to the USA, over 600 million to Mexico, and over 200 million to Brasil.
Should we not be advocating for them during their temporary residencies abroad? Well, think about what they do for our economy here, because without a dollar value no one listens. In a 1984 paper called “how much is an Evening Grosbeak worth” (John Y. Takekawa and Edward O. Garton, Journal of Forestry,
July 1984), the authors determined that bird predation on spruce budworms alone provided the equivalent of $1820 per square kilometre (1979 dollars) (money that would have been spent on spraying). If we consider our boreal forest alone, (not including the rest of the country’s ecosystems and landscapes) assuming that 50 percent of the area benefits in this way from bird predation, the total value that birds contribute just through predation would be over 5 billion 1979 dollars. Our forest would suffer irreparably and as would the forestry industry without the industrious birds to suppress leaf-eating insects.
I have not mentioned their cultural contribution through birding, feeding birds, hunting, etc., or other ecological services such as dispersal of seeds, pruning of trees or fertilization.
The point is that even if we conserve all of Canada, and even manage it for birds, we would still lose many species and populations because their welfare depends on what happens outside of Canada as much as inside. Who is their defender in their countries of destination? There is no National Migratory Bird Convention Act or provincial Wildlife Act to protect them there.
I think that Canada is unique in the western hemisphere in having such a large proportion of its bird species as migratory. Is it time for our foreign embassies to be a voice for birds in their host countries? Given the dizzying declines of so many species of our songbirds, I would argue that this time has arrived.