A case in point is the recent trip we took to a neighbouring province. We were in a lovely little wooded valley that contained four large lakes. For three days, the Humidex was 40C, or 110F. Active birding wasn't even contemplated, and our bird watching was restricted to watching flocks of White Pelicans float about overhead.
When I finally opened it I saw that on average, Canadian breeding bird populations have decreased by 12% since 1970, which is when effective monitoring began. Well, that didn't seem as bad as I was expecting, but the key phrase there was 'on average'.
All birders have a favourite species or two, and a story to go along with it. In my case, one of those special birds is an insectivore, the Common Nighthawk. When I was a little girl these birds really were common, and we heard them every evening. My dad would say there's the rainbird - their cry means rain is coming - and to this day their call takes me back to warm summer evenings, watching the sky with my father.
Three years ago we camped along the Red Deer River in southern Alberta, and watched 15 or 16 nighthawks every evening. This month we camped there again, and there were two. It’s very hard not to take this personally.
|Common Nighthawk by Daniel Arndt|
|Barn Swallow by Daniel Arndt|
The prairies however, also support millions of breeding ducks and other waterbirds whose populations have increased, largely due to more sustainable hunting management and protection or restoration of wetlands.
Burrowing Owls can successfully co-exist with man on well-managed grasslands, but disappear completely from pastureland that is over-grazed, or converted to cropland. Many Burrowing Owls that breed in Canada do not return from their winter migration, and only half of the adults come back to their northern breeding grounds.
I was surprised to read the Snowy Owl population has also declined by more than half in the last 40 years. Given the amazing irruption of snowys last winter, birders in the lower latitudes may be forgiven for thinking their overall population is doing well. It will be interesting to see how many sightings there are this coming winter.
The vast expanse of the boreal forest is a nursery for billions of birds. Due to its enormous size and inaccessibility, monitoring the status of boreal birds is restricted to the southern edges, where habitat modification is highest. The only group of birds that have been effectively monitored throughout the forest is waterfowl, as they’re counted from the air by helicopter or small airplane. Whooping Cranes have recovered from an all time low of 15 birds, to 2011 figures of 430 in the wild and 160 in captivity. The report also states that Common Goldeneye and American Bittern have declined strongly, leading me to wonder how on earth do you even see, much less count, American Bitterns from a helicopter?
|Whooping Crane at the Calgary Zoo off-exhibit breeding centre|
Only 22% of Canada’s breeding birds stay here year round and these are the species that have shown little change or even increases in their population.
It has never been more important for birders to speak out on behalf of our avian friends. People can’t help unless they know about the problem, so let’s get out there and recruit more birdwatchers!