Canadians are lucky indeed to live in a country where robins and finches share our backyards, our forests ring with the flute-like songs of thrushes, brilliant warblers add colour to the boreal forests, flocks of ducks dot the prairie potholes and seabirds nest in large coastal colonies. Birds fill our landscapes and are intertwined with the Canadian culture and identity.
Green Heron (photo: Mark Peck)
Birds have many values to Canadians. Bird populations are indicators of the ecological integrity of the environment—healthy bird populations imply a healthy planet. Bird watching is one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities in Canada. Millions of Canadians feed birds in their backyards. Waterfowl hunting provides food and supports local economies. Collectively, these activities contribute billions of dollars to the Canadian economy. Birds also provide immeasurable economic and ecological benefits by controlling insect and rodent populations, dispersing seeds and pollinating plants.
Canada’s birds have always had to cope with fluctuations in their environment. Droughts, floods, forest fires and insect outbreaks are part of the natural dynamics of ecosystems. Repeated ice ages and warming periods over the past million years caused major shifts in the landscape. In recent decades, however, increasing human populations in Canada and elsewhere are putting pressures on bird populations that may exceed their ability to cope.
Common Yellowthroat (photo: John Chardine)
Wetlands are being drained, forests are being cleared and native grasslands converted to cultivated crops. The tundra is threatened by climate change. Urban and industrial developments are replacing natural habitats. Roads, power lines and pipelines dissect the landscape. Invasive species are spreading. Industrial chemicals and pesticides are released into the water and the air. Historically, excessive commercial harvest led to major declines in many bird populations: Passenger Pigeons, Great Auks and Labrador Ducks all disappeared forever.
Still, there has been significant progress in bird conservation in the past century. The Migratory Birds Convention signed between Canada and the United States in 1916 led to better hunting controls, allowing many species to recover. Intensive single-species conservation efforts brought Whooping Cranes and some other species back from the brink of extinction. Controls on pesticide use allowed many raptor populations to recover from DDT poisoning. Ongoing land restoration and conservation activities are helping to restore waterfowl populations.
Birding on James Bay (photo: Mark Peck)
These successes tell us that conservation can work; with a concerted effort across society, human activities can be compatible with bird conservation.
In this first State of Canada’s Birds report, we present a picture of the current health of Canada’s bird populations. The report describes trends in the status of Canada’s birds, the major threats they face and conservation solutions that benefit them. It is both a call to action and an acknowledgement of success. Continued progress on bird conservation requires action to conserve habitat and address threats, both within our borders and internationally in cooperation with other countries—three quarters of Canada’s bird species spend much of their lives outside Canada. We hope this report will provide a voice for birds as Canada shapes its future.
North American Bird Conservation Initiative, Canada