We can make a difference. The State of Canada’s Birds 2012, released last month, proves conservation pays off. Unfortunately, more bird populations are declining than improving. This first-of-its-kind national report demonstrates two ways everyone can help: by volunteering for research, and protecting species and their habitats.
The report can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF file. Data collected over 40 years show bird populations are declining overall. Groups most seriously affected are grassland species, shorebirds and insectivores, like swallows and flycatchers, that catch prey in flight. We know grassland birds like the bobolink are succumbing to habitat loss, but other declines are more mysterious.
The factors affecting insectivores are poorly understood. In 2011 I volunteered for Ontario SwiftWatch. The provincial population of chimney swifts declined by 30 percent in just 13.5 years. Volunteers monitor nest sites to gather clues about the birds’ behaviour and ecology. Chimney swifts are incapable of perching and spend practically all their waking hours on the wing catching insects. They have adapted from roosting and nesting in old trees (which are now scarce) to using old-style chimneys (also now being torn down). They are most often observed circling city skies. People who live in cities do not have to travel far to find critical habitat for this threatened species.
The good news is: conservation works. The report shows bald eagles, peregrine falcons and other birds of prey have recovered significantly since pesticide bans in the 1970s. Meanwhile ducks and geese have rebounded due to cooperative protection and restoration of wetland habitat.
The State of Canada’s Birds report depends on data collected by generations of “professionals and citizen scientists”. This is one of the things I love about birding, and why I participate in the North American Breeding Bird Survey and Ontario SwiftWatch: I can help understand what is happening to birds and how we can protect them.
The report also suggests conservation approaches that may help declining species recover. Many of these activities invite our participation. In an upcoming post let us take a closer look at what we can do to provide better urban habitats.