Pesticides Make Migrating Birds Lose their Way

Guest Blog post by Dr. Bridget Stutchbury

Dr. Bridget Stutchbury

Pesticides are widely recognized as a risk to birds that forage in agricultural environments especially during migration. Since many current use insecticides are potent neurotoxins, we speculated that they could have behavioural effects in small songbirds landing in agricultural fields during their journey north if they consume tainted seeds or granules when they stop to fuel.

So we designed a study to test whether low level exposure to 2 widely used insecticides – imidacloprid  (a neonicotinoid) and chlorpyrifos  (an organophosphate) could disrupt the migratory ability of a wild-caught songbird. White-crowned sparrows, a common seed eater, were captured on migration and held in captivity at the Facility for Applied Avian Research at the University of Saskatchewan. After acclimation, we exposed the birds to either a low or high dose of either imidacloprid or chlorpyrifos at concentrations they could realistically encounter in the environment, and tested their orientation in a series of Emlen funnel migration trials before dosing, during the 3 day exposure, and during the recovery period.

What surprised us was how sensitive and rapid the effects were, particularly to imidacloprid.

The birds showed a significant loss of body mass and signs of acute poisoning (lethargy and loss of appetite). The migration trials also showed that birds completely failed to orient or changed their northward orientation, whereas controls continued to behave as expected.  While the chlorpyrifos treated birds did not show toxicity in terms of weight loss, they too lost their migratory orientation.   In the wild, we calculated that these effects would be seen if the birds consumed just a few treated seeds or granules mistaken as grit.

We were encouraged that most birds survived, and could recover following the cessation of dosing, but the effects we saw were severe enough that the birds would likely experience migratory delays or changes in their flight routes that could reduce their chance of survival or cause a missed breeding opportunity.

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Since these chemicals are used over vast areas of North America and the timing of application directly overlaps with spring migration, the results of this study raises serious concern about the risk of increasing use of seed and granular pesticide treatments to millions of migrating songbirds.

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The study is a collaboration between Margaret Eng, PhD Candidate, Dr. Christy Morrissey, Avian toxicologist, University of Saskatchewan and Dr. Bridget Stutchbury, Biologist, York Unniversity. 

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Here is the article published in the peer-reviewed Scientific Reports.  Stutch.Morrissey.Eng_et_al-2017_Sparrow toxicity IMI CPF_Scientific_Reports

Media coverage:

The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/29/common-pesticide-can-make-migrating-birds-lose-their-way-research-shows

Daily Mail UK http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5130721/Controversial-pesticide-linkied-songbird-decline.html

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The Ortolan Bunting Will Finally Be Off the Menu in France!

 “We have won our battle against Ortolan Bunting trapping and the phenomenon is basically wiped out from Les Landes.”

 THE MESSENGER took audiences into the fields of Les Landes, in south-west West France, to witness the illegal hunting of Ortolan Bunting, a practise that was decimating local populations.  Now, the Ortolan Bunting will finally be off the menu in France!  No other European songbird has declined as rapidly in recent years, with an overall decline of 84% since 1980 due to poaching and intensive agriculture – this, despite hunting of the species being forbidden by French law since 1999 when it became a protected species.   Because the Ortolan dish is considered a cultural tradition, authorities had often turned a blind eye to the activities of poachers.

 

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For the past 10 years, LPO (League for the Protection of the Oiseaux) the BirdLife International partner in France has been fighting this illegal practice on the ground, and also in the air, where alongside CABS (Committee Against Bird Slaughter), they have been identifying trapping sites and releasing the birds, before alerting the authorities. Until recently, these interventions were the only way to identify and prosecute the poachers, who operated with the blessing of local elected officials and hunting officials, and who claimed that the state “tolerated” these practices. Indeed the authorities wouldn’t file charges for installations of 30 traps or less. More on the practise and new developments in this article from Bird Life International.  

The French Ministry of the Environment requested  guidelines to study the Ortolans on a continental scale. 

Frédéric Jiguet from Museum National D’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, (featured in The Messenger) partnered with other scientists from more than 12 countries across EU to conduct the study.  He also worked in partnership with ONCFS (French Hunting & Wildlife National Office).  

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Frédéric Jiguet and his colleagues research work helped convince French Ecology Minister, Nicolas Hulot, to call for a definitive end to the hunting.  This was followed up in the field with a high pressure from the police this past fall, so there are now very few poachers.

The main conclusions are that the numbers migrating by south-west France are estimated on average   only 81,000 pairs (300,000 individuals including juveniles), with a recent decline estimated between -20% and -30%, while the overall trend of birds using the western flyway, or the eastern flyway, is a decline of lower amplitude estimated between -10% and -20%. The birds flying by south-west come mainly from Poland (probably 75%), the others coming mainly from Germany and Sweden, and also from Norway (where there are only astonishingly only 10 breeding pairs left) – so almost only from EU countries.   The first pages of the report are a summary of overall results, then detailed parts on each techniques.  (genetics, isotopes, geolocators). (see links below) 

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Andrea Rutigilano, an on-the ground warrior for CABS also featured in the film says, “We have won our battle against Ortolan Bunting trapping and the phenomenon is basically wiped out from Les Landes.”

Frédéric JIGUET sent us the links to this comprehensive research study about the Ortolan Bunting.

You can download the full Ortolan Bunting report in English at this link.    

The report is also available in French here

Die Gotterdammerung – Reason and Mercy

Die Gotterdammerung is the last in Richard Wagner’s cycle of four music dramas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen or The Ring Cycle.

Last year I wrote a short blogpost about The Forest Bird in Wagners Siegfried. This year, I was lucky enough to see the COC production of Die Gotterdammerung, and found myself pondering the role of birds, both in music and in the stories we tell.

 

Like the opera Siegfried, birds are featured once again in Die Gotterdammerung, but this time we meet two ravens called Reason and Mercy. Tragically (this is opera after all) these ravens are the messengers who decree Siegfried’s death. Birds have something to tell us indeed.

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-19 at 5.46.29 PM The raven is perhaps humankinds most storied bird. The mythology of the Haida is based on the epic cycle of stories about the Raven and his various exploits.  One of the best-known of these stories tells how the Raven disguised himself in order to enter the house of the Sky Chief, from whom he stole the sun, moon and stars to give to humankind.

 

Be it stories or music, birds are our long time cultural companions. British composer David Matthews believes that western music inspired by birdsong goes back at least as far as the 16th century. You can read more about his ideas in this essay. Matthews also understands what it means to be losing our birds.

 

 

 “Many of our birds are in decline – the cuckoo among them: fewer people now hear this essential sound of spring. Fortunately we still have blackbirds in great numbers, but we had better take care of them, and our other songbirds, otherwise we shall end up with the silent spring that Rachel Carson warned us of in her famous book of that title. Birds were singing millions of years before we evolved: they were the inventors of music. Maybe our future depends on theirs.”

 

Wise words indeed.

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The Messenger Spreads Its Wings and goes on a Road Trip!

by Joanne Jackson

It is a very exciting fall season for The Messenger.   We have just come back from a  fall road trip.   We also just got word about two more awards and another nomination.  There are over 40 fall screenings booked, with more pending, and we’ve had some new media coverage.  We are now taking pre-orders on-line and preparing to release DVD’s and Blu rays, so our Canadian office is hopping.  The full impact of The Messenger’s film release is certainly not known yet,  but we know that outreach and awareness of the pressures facing songbird populations and the potential impact of bird declines on the environment is being recognized by more and more people.  Many have said the film is ‘transformative’ for them.  The potential for our film to make a real difference in society’s conservation attitudes is enhanced by every grassroots discussion inspired by the movie.

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Being on the road with the film is exciting, encouraging and sometimes exhausting. There is a lot of prep work involved and we usually end up working 24-7, but it is really rewarding to interact with local audiences.   We can’t attend every screening so we really appreciate organizations like universities, colleges, Bird Studies Canada, the film societies and conservation groups who amplify our work by hosting screening events and participating in Q and A’s.

 

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Su Rynard with audience in Dominican Republic at DREFF

 

 

Director Su Rynard made a quick but wonderful trip to the Dominican Republic Environmental Film Festival (DREFF) in mid-September, then went to a special screening at Fleming College in the Kawarthas. (not too far from her cottage).

 

 

 

 

This weekend Su is winging her way to West Virginia, where she is a keynote speaker at the  The American Conservation Film Festival (Shepherdstown, West Virginia).

The Messenger is also being featured at The Antigonish Film Festival in Nova Scotia and The Cinema Verde Environmental Festival in St. Augustine, Florida this weekend. (Cinema  Verde has already acknowledged the film with it’s 2016 Whistle Blower Award.)laurel2016_whistleblower

 

Film participant Michael Mesure took time from FLAP’s busy bird rescue work in Toronto to head north to Pefferlaw, with  Producer Diane Woods to attend a special fundraising screening event for a wildlife refuge called Shades of Hope.

 

Social media and community outreach is critical  for us to let audiences know about screenings.  We could not do the outreach work we do without our subscribers and Facebook Fans support and the dedication of our screening co-ordinator Cayley James.

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Cayley liaises with community groups and looks after a lot of the event details. Thanks Cayley!

At the end of September, I went to some Ontario screening events  in Belleville, North Bay, Sudbury and New Liskeard. More about that under the mini-tour heading below.

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More Awards

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On October 11, at the Pariscience Awards Ceremony in Paris, France, the Messenger was awarded the prestigious Prix Buffon from the  ‘Jury Bioversité’.  The award  was presented to our French co-production partners Films a Cinq and ARTE France.

After the film screened at the North Bay Film Festival, the audience poll voted The Messenger as the Favourite Feature Documentary. 

Earlier this year we received the 2016 Carl Nunn Media and Conservation Award from Ontario Nature. The film was recognized because it “raised awareness of the mass depletion of songbird populations around the world.”  Diane Woods and Su Rynard were there to pick up the award.

The Messenger is currently  nominated in two categories at the Dutch International Science Film Festival. Categories:  The NTR Audience Award and the Youth Jury Award.

Stay tuned to see if we have more announcements in November. 

 

Mini-Screening Tour

Before I left to head out on a road trip for a Northern Ontario mini-tour,  The Messenger played for one night at the fabulous Empire Theatre in Belleville.  Jerry Archer from KX96 Radio moderated the September 26 event and I was joined by Peter Fuller, Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory and John Hirsch, Quinte Conservation for a Q and A following the film.

 

Then, on Friday September 30, I started the scenic drive north from the Toronto area.  My first destination was Sudbury, and the drive up hwy 69 with the changing fall colours was spectacular.  The Messenger opened that evening at Sudbury’s newly renovated Imagine Downtown Movie Lounge.  Phil Strong, our composer and sound designer who is a Sudbury native was in the city visiting his family, so it was great he was able to join me for the Q and A.  David Pearson and Chris Blomme from Laurentian University came out to participate in the discussion too.  Thanks to Laurentian Film Studies Prof Hoi Cheu for setting up the sound system and bringing  student volunteers to  help with the event.  A special shout out to the Giles and Strong family members who made it opening night and Lorraine Dupuis who put up movie posters for us.

 

Earlier that same week, I was interviewed by CBC Morning North radio host Markus Schwabe.  You can listen the to that interview here.

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On Saturday October 1, I participated in a panel with other industry producers at the North Bay Film Festival about  ‘getting your film into film festivals’.  The whole thing was streamed live on Facebook, so that was a new experience for me!   It was very encouraging to hear the other producers talk about the great opportunities for filmmaking that are taking place in northern Ontario.  Canadore College’s digital cinematography professor Dave Clement moderated the panel. If you scroll down on our Facebook page to Oct. 1 posts, you can watch it there.

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On October 2nd  we had over 160 people at the festival screening of The Messenger in the impressive theatre at the Capital Centre in North Bay.  Moderator Adam Contant from KISS FM Radio,  introduced me and the film. Afterwards Paul Smylie from Nipissing University and Richard Tafel from the Nipissing Naturalists Club joined us for a Q and A. We had a number of educators who made the trek out on that rainy Sunday morning to see the film, so thanks to them and everyone else for being there to ask such thoughtful questions.

 

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Just before the screening I was interviewed by Linda Holmes of CTV and a clip made it on the Northern Ontario evening news.

When festival co-ordinator Holly Cunningham later informed me  that The Messenger was the top audience documentary choice for the festival, I was a bit stunned. What a lovely surprise and wonderful way to enhance our road trip!

 

 

 

Final Stop on the Tour

 

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Proud to be showing at the Messenger at the Empire Theatre in New Liskeard,  part of the City of Temiskaming Shores

 

Although I have worked in the tv/film industry for over 20 years,  and produced many hours of Television programs,   The Messenger is just the third independent documentary I’ve produced.  It is the first  feature film I’m involved with to have theatrical release, so I was really pleased to wind up the mini-Northern Ontario tour in my hometown of New Liskeard. I still have family in the area, so it was wonderful to share the film with the local community at the Empire Theatre in its full theatrical glory on October 3rd.  Drew Gauley of the Temiskaming Screening Room film society kicked off the event. After the screening we had another interesting Q and A discussion.  The town is located in the ‘Little Clay Belt’ agricultural area of Northern Ontario and there are many farms nearby, so the issue of ‘pesticides’ and ‘free roaming cats’ were hot topics.

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L-R Glenn Scott, Bruce Murphy, Joanne Jackson, Mike Werner, Terry Phillips. Photo by Sue Nielsen, The Temiskaming Speaker

 

The Q and A was moderated by Temiskaming Secondary School science teacher Glenn Scott.

I was joined by Bruce Murphy and Mike Werner from The Hilliardtown Marsh Conservation Centre and Terry Phillips, District Director of the Grain Farmers of Ontario.  Prior to the event,  we had some wonderful local media coverage too, thanks to a Twenty questions article in the  Temiskaming Speaker by reporter Sue Neilsen  and  a Morning chat interview facilitated by CJTT  station manager Gail Moore and  Radio host Jack Morin.

Check out the commercial they made for the film!   Just click on the audio file below.

More Campus screenings are currently taking place, and more are being booked.  Find out where & how here.  Educators and libraries can now order educational copies too.  (with public performance rights) in the new Educators section of the Messenger’s website at www.theMessengerdoc.com

To read additional media coverage about The Messenger check out the  press section of this website. 

Special thanks to Mary Jackson, Darlene Jackson, Jennifer Gravel, Shelley Jackson and Patti Dubois (my sisters and sister-in-law) for helping to promote the screening and assisting me at the screenings.

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Jennifer Gravel in front of the Empire Theatre

Thanks to Telefilm Canada for providing  marketing and promotion assistance for The Messenger.

 

If you would like to contact me about the film, please email joanne@songbirdsos.com

 

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Wood Thrush

This summer we have had many unusually hot days, and with the heat comes the memory of another very hot summer day when we filmed with Dr. Lyle Friesen and Dinuka Gunaratne in Waterloo, Ontario.

Dr. Lyle Friesen (formerly with Environment Canada) has been studying Wood Thrush in the region of Waterloo since 1996.  These songbirds are in serious decline, but without clear answers as to why this was happening, Lyle knew he had a mystery to solve.

“Since 1970 the population of Wood Thrush in Canada has declined by 85%, that’s just an astonishing number.”

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Our day of filming started with a lucky shot of a Wood Thrush on her nest. We were hoping to capture behavior so we patiently filmed this shot for a long time, waiting for this songbird to forage,  wiggle, eat or sing — any action for the camera! However we ended up in a stand-off.

 

The Wood Thrush knew we were there and simply froze. The only movement we could see was the occasional blink of an eye. She seemed to believe that if she stayed absolutely still we would not see her. This was likely a tactic to defend her nest, which apparently is serious business for a Wood Thrush.

“We found and monitored almost 900 nests and about half of the nests fall prey to predators, yet we’ve never seen a predator at a wood thrush nest.”

Lyle and his team set up a series of infra red camera’s and installed ‘nest cams’ at the nests. Over the course of several years, Dr. Lyle Friesen documented an amazing night-time woodland drama.

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We created a short video documenting the process of Lyle’s research. This video features amazing footage that reveals who the mysterious predator is, as well as their modus operandi.  watch: https://youtu.be/i57Mou6HiEE8

 

What we learn from Lyle’s work is that the world is becoming a less friendly place for Wood Thrush. Predation in itself is a natural phenomenon, but in this case the reasons behind its dramatic increase are anthropogenic. Humans have modified the landscape and upset natures balance — with devastating consequence for Wood Thrush.

 

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