Avoidance of Detrimental Effects to Migratory Birds (Incidental Take)

Photos of Canada Goose eggs in next; Barn swallow on branch; and Northern Garnett on branch.

Photo: © Photos.com; © Photos.com; © Thinkstockphotos, 2015.

Migratory birds are an important component of Canadian biodiversity and most of these birds and their nests and eggs are protected everywhere in Canada under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 (MBCA) (see list of birds protected in Canada under the MBCA).

Implementing the conservation of migratory birds requires attention to key factors, including the protection of the birds themselves, their nests and eggs. For example, the breeding period is critical in the life cycle of migratory birds to maintain sustainable populations. Most migratory bird species build a nest and/or find a safe place from predators and harsh weather to lay and incubate their eggs and to raise their young.

Migratory birds, the nests of migratory birds and/or their eggs can be inadvertently harmed or disturbed as a result of many activities-including but not limited to clearing trees and other vegetation, draining or flooding land, or using fishing gear.

This inadvertent harming, killing, disturbance or destruction of migratory birds, nests and eggs is known as incidental take. Incidental take, in addition to harming individual birds, nests or eggs, can have long-term consequences for migratory bird populations in Canada, especially through the cumulative effects of many different incidents.

Environment and Climate Change Canada works cooperatively with individuals, governments and industries to minimize the risk of incidental take effects to migratory birds, to achieve compliance with the law and to maintain sustainable populations of migratory birds.

Why is it important to protect migratory birds and their nests and eggs?

Canada is home to approximately 450 native species of birds, the majority of which are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, and are collectively referred to as “migratory birds” (see a detailed list of birds protected in Canada under the MBCA). Some of these birds - ducks, geese, herons, songbirds - are among the most familiar wildlife of the Canadian landscape, and are part of the cultural and spiritual experience of many Canadians.

Migratory birds play important roles in our environment; for example, they contribute to environmental quality by protecting agricultural and forest products from pests, and promote the health and diversity of ecosystems through pollination and seed dispersion. Expenditures on nature-related activities, including migratory bird watching and hunting, also make a significant contribution to our economy, and are estimated to be in the billions of dollars annually (source: The Importance of Nature to Canadians: The Economic Significance of Nature-related Activities).

How are migratory birds protected in Canada?

The Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, an act that was first adopted in Canada in 1917, protects species of migratory birds and their nests and eggs anywhere they are found in Canada, including surrounding ocean waters regardless of ownership (see Legal Protection for Migratory Birds in Canada and list of birds protected in Canada under the MBCA). General prohibitions under the Act and its regulations protect migratory birds, their nest and eggs and prohibit the deposit of harmful substances to birds in waters or areas frequented by them.

Under certain circumstances, incidental take of a migratory bird, nest or egg has the potential to result in investigation and potentially prosecution under the general prohibitions of the Act and its regulations. This possibility is elevated if no reasonable attempt was made to avoid or reduce the risk of impact when the action or decision that led to the incidental take was carried out with reasonable knowledge of the potential harm, and/or with reasonable knowledge of the potential presence of migratory birds, nests and eggs in the area to which the action or decision is applied.

Currently, the regulations do not provide for authorizations or permits for the incidental take of migratory birds or their nests or eggs in the course of industrial or other activities. As such, to minimize the possibility of contravening the law, understanding your potential impact on migratory birds, nests and eggs, taking reasonable care, and avoidance are the best approaches to take when contemplating any activity or decision that has the potential to impact migratory birds, nests or eggs. However, if migratory birds are causing damage or danger (for example cases of crop depredation or airport safety), please contact Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service office in your region.

General advice to prevent detrimental effects on migratory birds, nests and eggs

General Environment and Climate Change Canada recommendations:

  1. Know your legal obligations;
  2. Avoid engaging in potentially destructive or disruptive activities in key sensitive periods and locations, in order to reduce the risk of affecting birds, their nests or eggs;
  3. Develop and implement appropriate preventive and mitigation measures to minimize the risk of incidental take and to help maintain sustainable populations of migratory birds.

Note that appropriate measures need to be decided on a case-by-case basis. It is the responsibility of the individual or company undertaking the activities to determine these measures.

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