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.

Neonics.test dishes.46D264BD00000578-5130721-image-a-14_1511999806724

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.

 *****

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. 

********

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

Banner-KeyMsg-1C-Contamination

The Messenger Canadian Campus tour kicks off

Toronto,  ON (September 21, 2016)

The award-winning documentary The Messenger is teaming up with Bird Studies Canada to tour Canadian University and college campuses this fall.  The tour kicks off this evening at Dalhousie University in Halifax.  Each screening will be followed by a discussion led by local conservation and biologists. For more information on campus locations, dates and times, see http://songbirdsos.com/screenings/canadian-screenings/

Confirmed campus locations and dates include:

  • September 21 – Dalhousie, Halifax, NS Hosted by professor Cindy Staicer.
  • September 27- McMaster University – Hamilton, ON Hosted by Instructor Greg Zilderbrant
  • September 28 -Ottawa University – Ottawa, ON Hosted by Professor Scott Simon
  • September 29 – University of Saskatchewan, SK – with Professor Christy Morrissey and Kiel Drake from Bird Studies Canada
  • October 2 – Mount Allison, Sackville, NB, followed by Q+A with Bird Studies Canada and Environment Canada
  • October 2 – Fleming College,  Lindsay, ON  hosted by the City of Kawartha Lakes Environmental Advisory Committee with Director Su Rynard and FLAP’s Michael Mesure in attendance
  • October 5/6 University of Victoria, followed by Q+A with Dr. David Bradley of Bird Studies Canada
  • October 21-23 The Antigonish International Film Festival, NS – Home of St.Francis Xavier Univeristy
  • October 25 The University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC followed by a Q+A with Dr. David Bradley of Birds Studies Canada
  • November 9 Queen’s University, Kingston ON
  • November 9 The University of Guelph, ON followed by a Q+A with Dr. Ryan Norris and others
  • November 10 – The University of Windsor, ON
  • November 10 McGill University, Montreal, QC, presented by Le Nichoir
  • November 15 Lakeland College, Vermilion, AB
  • Date TBA – The University of Western Ontario, ON
  • Date TBA – The University of Regina, SK
  • Date TBA – York University, Toronto, ON with Bridget Stutchbury

We are delighted to be introducing The Messenger to students and educators across the country” says Director Su Rynard.  “Since its premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival, The Messenger has wowed audiences the world over at more than 30 international film festivals and  played in over 100 Cinemas. We are really pleased the film has been so well received.  We hope it is will inspire people to make a difference for not just birds, but the planet too.”

 The Messenger is an international story with high stakes global consequences. The film argues that the decline of songbirds is due to human activity, signalling an uncertain shift in an already fragile ecosystem while warning the uncertain fate of songbirds might mirror our own.

A Hot Docs 2015 ‘Top Ten Audience Favourite’ The Messenger has received several awards including The Best Conservation Program from The Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival plus a Canadian Cinema nomination for Best Cinematography in a Feature Documentary and Ontario Nature’s Carl Nunn Impact Award.

20151126_the-messenger-qa_0017

Filmed on three continents, The Messenger features a number of Canadian scientists including biologist Dr. Bridget Stutchbury, (Author Silence of the Songbirds and Professor, York University) Erin Bayne, (Biology Professor, University of Alberta)  and Dr. Christy Morrissey (Avian Ecotoxicologist, University of Saskatchewan) and citizen scientist Michael Mesure from FLAP. More on the film participants here. http://songbirdsos.com/featuring/

Without a doubt, The Messenger is the most outstanding film I’ve seen on birds. The fact that it is so strongly science-based, so emotive in its pitch, so beautiful in its design it captivates me and everyone who has had a chance to see it.” – Steven Price, President, Bird Studies Canada

A free study guide will soon be available for educators who wish to use The Messenger in classroom discussions.

Campus organizations wishing to request a screening as part of the tour should send request a screening here.

To book an interview or request an appearance by the filmmakers or the participating  scientists, contact:

Joanne Jackson, Producer, SongbirdbirdSOS Productions Inc.,

Email:  joanne@songbirdsos.com

Phone +1  416 801 1118

For US inquiries please contact Jeff Tamblyn at Kino Lorber. Jeff Tamblyn (edu@kinolorber.com) 212-629-6880

For more information visit www.TheMessengerDoc.com

 

JOIN THE MESSENGER ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

 
Facebook
— https://www.facebook.com/SongbirdSOSfilm/

Twitter — @themessengerdoc

#BirdFriendly

***

90 MIN  English,  (or English with French subtitles)
Directed by Su Rynard

Written by Su Rynard and Sally Blake

Produced by Joanne Jackson, Sally Blake and Martin de la Fouchardière,

Diane Woods and Su Rynard

SongbirdSOS is a Canada/France co-production
Produced by SongbirdSOS Productions and Films à Cinq/ARTE

Produced with participation from the Ontario Media Development Corporation Film Fund,
CBC, ARTE, Canal D and the Rogers Documentary Fund, Canada Media Fund, CNC,

Telefilm International Co-production office, Rogers Telefund, Procirep-Angoa
and the Documentary Organization of Canada.
Developed with the assistance of the CFC-NFB Documentary Program, OMDC,

National Film Board of Canada & David J. Woods Productions.

US Distribution Kino Lorber, International Sales ZED

Distributed in Canada by SongbirdSOS Productions Inc.

Marketing and promotion assistance by Telefilm Canada.

Special thanks to First Weekend Club, Women Make Movies, Hot Docs Deal Maker,

Sunnyside of the Doc and National Outreach partner Bird Studies Canada.

Songbird Documentary on CBC Nature of Things – March 19

Our team has been working on this multi-faceted project for almost five years and the first of two very different  international co-production documentaries is set to debut for Canadian viewers on CBC-TV’s The Nature Of Things, March 19, 2015 at 8 PM.    

Narrated by Dr. David Suzuki and directed by Su Rynard, The Nature of Things SongbirdSOS is an artfully-shot TV documentary about the mass depletion of songbirds in the Americas. It depicts an alarming thinning of populations that has seen declines of many species since the 1960s.  According to  York University’s  Dr. Bridget Stutchbury, who is featured in the program, we may have lost almost half the songbirds that filled the skies fifty years ago.

Hazards affecting songbirds include glass-enclosed high-rise buildings that account for up to a billion bird deaths annually, light pollution that disorients birds’ migratory flight paths, lost breeding and wintering habitats from rain forests to wetlands to boreal forests, oil pipelines and farm pesticides.

Pesticides

Tree Swallow in Saskatchewan

There’s unforgettable real-time front line research in SongbirdSOS. Michael Mesure of the volunteer army FLAP  (Fatal Light Awareness Program) Canada shows the toll on birds on a tour of particularly lethal Toronto buildings. Erin Bayne takes us into the Boreal Forest north of Edmonton, Alberta  to witness the impact of industry on North America’s biggest bird nursery.  In Saskatchewan avian eco-toxicologist Christy Morrissey discovers lethal neonicotinoids in the spring wetland water supply, ahead of its annual application by local farmers. In a revelatory sequence, Bridget Stutchbury equips northern Purple Martins with micro-chip backpacks that reveal the secrets of their oddly-non-linear migratory journeys to South America and back.

And there’s a glimpse of hope for the future, as Costa Rican coffee farmers learn from ornithologist Alejandra Martinez-Salinas about the benefits of pesticide-free shade-grown (and bird-friendly) coffee.

Over the course of a year, following the seasons and the birds, Director Su Rynard and the team set out on a journey of discovery.

“We discovered that the causes of songbird declines are many, and the solutions are few,” states  Rynard. “Yet everywhere we went, we met passionate people who are concerned and are working for change – as this is not just about the future of birds, it’s about the health of the planet too.”

SongbirdSOS Productions Inc. is pleased to welcome Bird Studies Canada as a National Outreach Partner for a Social Impact Campaign for this project.

Check out some related stories on the CBC Nature of Things website. 

Press Release about the CBC TV Nature of Things March 19 broadcast