Ottawa Citizens Start FLAP Bird Rescue Initiative

FLAP. Ottawa. fall colour. dead birds Michael Mesure, founder and Executive Director of the FLAP bird rescue organization, which is featured in SongbirdSOS says that many citizens of the city of Ottawa (Canada’s capital city) were shocked and troubled when a flock of approximately 30 Bohemian Waxwings collided with a glass walkway at their City Hall last year.  The sudden and public death of these beautiful birds drew a frenzy of media attention and the interest of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists Birds Committee.

One member in particular, Anouk Hoedeman, was concerned by this event and started on the search for a solution. Although it is rare for an entire flock of birds to hit as in this incident, it is altogether too common for birds to collide with building windows.   It is estimated that up to 1 billion birds die from window collisions each year in North America alone.

Most people have had an experience at home, at the cottage or even at work where they have witnessed a bird dying in this way. These experiences are upsetting and scary, often because people do not realize why birds collide with windows or what can be done to prevent it.

The sheer scope of this issue was brought to the attention of Sarah Kirkpatrick-Wahl at Nature Canada with the release of a series of scientific papers released by Environment Canada in Fall 2013 on the major human causes of bird mortality.

Anouk and Sarah’s separate searching lead them both to FLAP.  (Fatal Light Awareness Program) Over the years, FLAP Canada has received calls from the Ottawa region about birds that have been found, but Mesure knew something was different this time around.  Anouk and Sarah were put in touch and started meeting with others who were interested in finding a solution, including staff at the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre.

In SongbirdSOS, Michael Mesure states that due to a recent precedent setting court case  in Toronto, it is now illegal for buildings to knowingly attract and cause the death of birds in Ontario.    He says “We’re excited about this new wing of FLAP volunteers gathering in Ottawa so they can make a difference for local and migrating bird populations.  Ottawa is a dynamic  growing city on the banks of an important river system which is a natural migratory bird pathway.   With the increase in new building development , incidents of bird collisions have increased.   It is not surprising that environmental concerns are arising because of this too.’’

This past spring, Anouk and another volunteer, Cynthia Paquin, began daily patrols in the downtown core of the nation’s capital.  They found that the majority of collisions occurred after sunrise, with more birds hitting when it was bright and sunny. Their first season of patrols confirmed a problem with window strikes, so Anouk, Sarah, Cynthia and others began earnest efforts to establish a local FLAP program. This fall, they began building a more solid base of patrollers and drivers to help their efforts.FLAP.Ottawa volunteers

To date the Ottawa Wing of FLAP has recorded more than 300 birds representing about 60 species, including 20 warbler species and threatened species such as Wood Thrush and Canada Warbler. Species collected range from Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to a surprising Barred Owl.

Although many of the birds are found dead, Ottawa Wing volunteers are always thrilled to be able to rescue a stunned or injured bird and have managed to rescue dozens of warblers, kinglets, Brown Creepers, sparrows, woodpeckers and more. They already have a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/FLAPOttawa and on it they have been posting some successful bird rescue videos.

As word spreads about FLAP volunteer efforts in Ottawa,  more calls are coming in about injured and dead birds from office workers and homeowners. The group hopes the attention will get more people involved in this critical bird conservation initiative in Ottawa.  You can contact them at Ottawa@flap.org or 613-216-8999.  http://www.flap.org/ottawa.php

If you want to find out when the SongbirdSOS film featuring the bird rescue work of FLAP will be coming to a movie screen near you, please sign up for our newsletter.

Photos courtesy of Anouk Hoedeman

Geolocators Track Songbird Migration

In only the last few years, songbird migration research has taken a huge leap forward as ornithologists and bird researchers have been able to find out more about bird migration due to light logger geolocator technology.

Research teams can now equip the songbirds with tiny computer chip backpacks that record light levels and location information every two minutes. Within the device is a real time clock reference built in for each location measurement. The researchers who have successfully retrieved the geolocator devices from returning songbirds say that when they analyse data for even a small number of birds,  it is astonishing what they find out regarding flight, speed, distance, stop over sites and wintering-ground destinations.

Geolocator in hand

The tricky part about using this miniaturized technology is that the geolocators are not capable of transmitting live data, so in order for the researcher to get the data from the bird, the songbird  has to not only has to be strong enough to  carry a computer chip backpack for 9 or 10 months, it has to return to the same spot it was tagged to be recaptured the following spring.   Because of the perilous migration journeys  most songbirds face, researchers never recover all the birds they tag.

Tagged Purple Martin

For our documentary, one of the migratory research studies we are looking at is in the Purple Martin Conservation area of Presque Isle Park on the shores of Lake Erie.  Dr. Bridget Stutchbury, ornithologist and  York University Professor, is featured in the documentary as she captures and tags Purple Martins at this site.

Another participant in the film, Dr. Martin Wikelski from the Max Plank Institute of Ornithology in Germany,  was a catalyst for a very  exciting tracking project – Movebank, which compiles the animal and bird migration geolocator records from hundreds of  scientists worldwide.

Songbirds in Decline but Conservation Works!

State of the Birds ReportThe State of the Birds report is out.  The report tries to mitigate the drastic news about further declines and more ‘red listed’ species with Conservation success stories. What does this mean for Songbirds? The news is not great, for forest songbirds, nor for neotropical migrants.

“The eastern forests indicator for 26 obligate breeding birds shows an overall drop of 32%, with a continued steady decline since 2009. Species dependent on either young forests (such as Golden-winged Warbler and Eastern Towhee) or mature deciduous forest (such as Wood Thrush and Cerulean Warbler) are showing the steepest declines. Because 84% of eastern forests are privately owned, timber companies and other forest owners can greatly benefit bird populations by maintaining large forest blocks and participating in sustainable forestry initiatives.

The western forests indicator, based on 39 obligate breeding species, has declined nearly 20% and has continued to decline since 2009. More than half of western forests are on public lands. Species dependent on oak and pinyonjuniper woodlands (such as Oak Titmouse and Pinyon Jay) are showing the steepest declines. As in the East, both early successional species (such as Rufous Hummingbird and MacGillivray’s Warbler) and mature forest species (such as Vaux’s Swift and Cassin’s Finch) are declining.”

I feel very fortunate to have encountered two of the songbirds mentioned above on the SSOS filmmaking journey. We recorded a Golden-winged Warbler in Costa Rica with Alejandra-Martinez-Salinas and a Wood Thrush in Waterloo Ontario with Lyle Friesen. On the downside, filming a Cerulean Warbler was impossible, as their numbers are way down, and the State of the Birds report, like our film SongbirdSOS, helps us understand why this is so. 

“Thirty Watch List species are Neotropical migrant songbirds that breed in North America and winter south of U.S. borders.

Neotropical migrant conservation requires international cooperation to protect habitats throughout their ranges, on the premise that conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean will ensure these birds return to the U.S. in spring. Bicknell’s Thrush, a breeding bird of Northeastern mountains, needs immediate action to stop deforestation in Hispaniola. Virginia’s Warbler and Rufous Hummingbird both breed in the West and winter in Mexican pine-oak and thorn forests.

Cerulean and Golden-winged warblers breed in eastern forests and winter in the tropics. These fast-declining species have benefitted from collaborations by scientists, agencies, and businesses that created breeding habitat on U.S.timberlands and wintering habitat in Colombian coffee-growing landscapes. Such partnerships provide a model for voluntary, international habitat conservation for other Neotropical migrants.”

 

 

Bill Evans Unique Songbird Acoustic Monitoring

For nearly 30 years, Bill Evans has had his ear to the sky,  listening to the calls of songbirds as they travel through the night. The process is called acoustic monitoring and the data he collects provides valuable information on songbird migration and the health of their populations.

Bill’s journey as a renegade scientist began in 1985 after a long night of delivering pizzas. He was resting on a bluff in eastern Minnesota at two in the morning when he heard it: the sound of hundreds of unseen birds flying overhead in the dark spring sky. He was entranced by their calls. “It was just such an enthralling experience for me,” said Bill. “To hear those calls so clearly – I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Bill Evans night sky

At that time Bill was a history of science student at the University of Minnesota. He didn’t know how, but that day he decided he would find a way to record those calls over the duration of an entire night and to archive the data for others. He’s been committed to this work ever since.

Bill’s process has evolved with technology. He recorded his first calls on hifi VCRs, playing back the tapes and noting the calls by hand. The advent of computers has sped up the process and he now uses software that can extract the calls automatically.

He left his academic path to pursue his passion full-time and now works from his make-shift laboratory at his home in Ithaca, New York. His methods are unorthodox.  He constructs his microphones with the cheapest materials he can find: buckets, rubber bands and plastic wrap. He publishes his songbird data and his do-it-yourself methods on his website, www.oldbird.org, in the hopes of empowering citizen scientists to participate in this ambitious and important long-term bird acoustic monitoring project.

Similar to the Breeding Bird Survey, bird acoustic monitoring employed by citizen scientists across the continent has the potential to become a valuable tool for ornithologists and conservationists. He wants his work to become an index for looking at change, not just for the birds, but for the health of the planet as well.

Mic and Observatory

“These birds are tied down to habitat,” said Bill. “If you’re monitoring the population of the species, especially those neotropical  migrant songbirds, you have a sort of pulse on the condition of central or southern America wherever those birds go. You have a way of tuning into the changes of the planet from your home.”

Bill’s innovative methods give scientists a new way to measure the population trends of migratory songbirds. He is still driven by the same passion from that awe-inspiring moment but now, considering the many threats faced by songbirds, with a greater sense of urgency.

The SongbirdSOS documentary crew filmed with Bill on a beautiful night near the Cornell Night Sky Observatory in Ithaca, New York. 

Are Pesticides Causing Problems for Tree Swallow Songbirds?

The call of the Tree Swallow is a familiar sound to anyone living in the fields and wetlands of rural North America. These songbirds winter farther north than any other American swallow and return to their nesting ground long before other swallows come back.

Distinguished by their deep-blue backs and pure, white fronts, Tree Swallows are known for their impressive flight acrobatics as they chase after insects.

This songbird species has historically thrived in agriculture areas and grasslands.  The species has traditionally fared well in grasslands but has quickly begun to lose ground in terms of its population stability.  Scientists are beginning to notice that aerial insectivores associated with farmland are now the steepest in decline.

The North American Breeding Bird Survey  reports that tree swallows in Canada have declined 62% since 1966.  This alarming pattern is also appearing in the USA and Europe.

“Their numbers are telling us something about the environment that they’re living in,” says Christy Morrissey, an eco-toxicologist at the University of Saskatchewan. “The common denominator there is that they are living in an area which is susceptible to pesticides.”

The tree swallow habit of nesting tree cavities and bird house/nestboxes means that scientists can study their breeding behaviour in great detail; they know more about Tree Swallows than any other aerial insectivore. Bob Clarke, a professor at the University Saskatchewan, has been studying them for over twenty years.  His research has provided the Morrissey with a strong foundation for continuing to study pesticides and their impact on the species.

Christy suspects the recent introduction of neonicotinoid pesticides could be affecting insect populations, which in turn impacts the Tree Swallow’s diet. “We are seeing very clear differences between sites that have more agricultural intensification than sites that are more natural,” she says. Let’s hope that Christy can find the answer. The Breeding Bird Survey reports that tree swallows in Canada have declined 62% since 1966.

 

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