Bird populations in decline

The bad news is that populations of more than one-quarter of Canada's bird species are declining, many rapidly.

The good news is that about the same number are increasing — proof, says a study on avian Canadians, that sustained effort can put more wings in the sky.

"Conservation works when it is integrated with our economy, policies and daily lives," says the 2019 State of Canada's Birds report, the work of Environment Canada, industry, environmental groups and all 13 provinces and territories.

The report, the first since 2012, examines population trends over nearly five decades for 449 bird species.

Their habitats include seacoasts, prairies, wetlands and forests. They eat everything from fish to bugs to plants to other birds. And some, the report concludes, are taking it on the beak.

Overall, grassland birds such as meadowlarks are down 57 per cent — some almost 90 per cent. Shorebirds such as western sandpipers have declined about 40 per cent. Airborne bug-eaters like the agile barn swallow have lost 59 per cent of their numbers.

So little is known about Canadian seabirds that trends for two-thirds of them are a mystery. But a recent global assessment concluded 55 of the 58 seabird species that use Canadian waters are of conservation concern or at risk of extinction.

Forest birds are divided: 49 species are increasing and 43 are decreasing. Nuthatches are doing fine; waxwings, not so much.

Birds of prey such as hawks and falcons are up 110 per cent. Geese are booming, up 360 per cent. Ducks have increased 69 per cent and wetland birds are up 30 per cent.

All those increasing species have benefited from government policies and private action. Many problems require international co-operation, because even small birds can migrate over thousands of kilometres.

"We have solved the conservation challenges of 50 years ago or 100 years ago: DDT, overhunting, wetland loss," said Environment Canada's Adam Smith, who was in charge of the report.

DDT, the pesticide behind the near-catastrophic drop in birds such as eagles, has been banned around the world since the 1960s.

Private groups such as Ducks Unlimited have worked with the Canadian and U.S. governments to restore wetlands across the continent. About $2.4 billion has been spent on the North American Waterfowl Management Plan since 1986.

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