What is happening to Canada’s birds?
© Alan MacKeigan
Survival is a tough game. Birds have always had to deal with major threats – starvation, predation, wild and unpredictable weather. But in the past century, birds are experiencing many new threats as a result of human-induced changes to the world. Habitat change, pesticides, pollution, climate change, pets – the number and scale of challenges to survival seems daunting. It's a testament to the resiliency of birds that our "fine feathered friends" are surviving as well as they are. While some species are stable, others are experiencing dramatic changes – both increases and decreases – in their populations.
Can you imagine spring without the forests, fields and wetlands ringing with the calls of birds? Migratory birds are not only an important part of our ecosystems, they are important to our sense of well-being, and to our identity as Canadians. Canada shares responsibility for conservation of these birds with the other countries where they spend part of the year. In co-operation with its partners, both national and international, Environment Canada works to maintain the diversity and abundance of waterfowl, landbirds, shorebirds and water birds that spend part of each year in this country. An understanding of their population status and population changes not only helps wildlife managers develop sound conservation strategies for these birds, but also provides insight into overall environmental health – which is important for all life, including human life. For that purpose, Environment Canada has developed a new interactive Web site designed to provide a picture of the current population status of birds in Canada and their evolution over the last 40 years.
The new Web site!
The new Status of Birds in Canada Web site has been added to the Nature section of Environment Canada’s Web site. It identifies the overall status of each species, describes population changes, discusses some of their conservation needs and provides a mechanism to track the success of ongoing and proposed conservation actions for these species.
The first phase of the site, which has just been launched, reports on a selection of more than 100 landbirds. These landbirds are either of conservation concern or those for which our stewardship responsibility is high, because Canada is home to a large portion of their population. Future iterations are planned to include all of Canada’s birds.
The Web site presents individual species accounts based on an assessment of the available population data from a variety of bird monitoring programs. It identifies the overall status of each species, describes population changes, discusses some of their conservation needs and provides a mechanism to track the success of ongoing and proposed conservation actions for these species. Although results from individual monitoring programs have been presented previously, the Status of Birds in Canada Web site is the first time that data from all these different sources has been pulled together and presented.
Where do the data come from?
Bird monitoring programs provide the data that allow biologists to measure changes in their populations. There are a wide variety of monitoring programs in Canada: some are co-ordinated by government, others by conservation and environmental organizations. By synthesizing information from these various surveys, biologists are able to assess the status and changes in each species. It also allows us to identify those species for which our information is inadequate, so that we can work towards filling these gaps in knowledge.
The landbird monitoring programs that provide data for the Status of Birds in Canada Web site rely in large part on the participation of volunteers who are highly-skilled in the identification of birds. Thousands of these volunteers contribute their time and expertise to the Breeding Bird Survey, the Christmas Bird Count, Breeding Bird Atlases, and many other bird monitoring programs. Their contribution to our knowledge of bird populations and to bird conservation has been enormous. We are extremely grateful to all these dedicated birders.
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Did you know?
McCown's Longspur, a small sparrow-like bird found on Canada’s prairie grasslands, has lost more than 90% of its population in Canada over the last 40 years. Its native short-grass prairie habitat has declined due to agricultural and urban development. The species reflects the plight of grassland birds which, as a group, have declined by almost 50% since the early 1970s.
Browse through the Status of Birds in Canada Web site and see how other selected species are faring.