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Celebrating a Century of Bird Conservation

market hunting. (Greater Yellowlegs. Photo by Jeff Nadler.)
“Yellowlegs” were popular restaurant fare in the 19th and early 20th century when many bird populations were nearly wiped out by ruthless market hunting practices. The Greater Yellowlegs is easily flushed and so would rise and sound a noisy alarm call when hunters approached, thus it was also known as the "tattler." (Greater Yellowlegs photo by Jeff Nadler.)

Our guest blog author, Jeff Wells,  is the Science and Policy Director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative and one of North America’s leading ornithologists. This post comes on the heels of Bird Protection Quebec’s 100th Anniversary Dinner celebration which featured Jeff as the keynote speaker. His inspiring talk highlighted  some of the notable achievements in bird conservation over the last century as well as contemporary issues, and  he encouraged us to put action behind our convictions.  His expertise in boreal forest conservation issues of course weaved a thematic thread through his message. However, regardless if you were able to attend this celebratory evening or missed out, here’s another opportunity for Jeff’s insight into the boreal, a place that requires action on our part to ensure that the birds we enjoy today are here for the generations of  tomorrow.


Celebrating a Century of Bird Conservation

Guest Blog Post
By:  Jeff Wells, Science and Policy Director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative

It was an honour and a privilege to speak at Bird Protection Quebec’s 100th anniversary celebration. For the past century, Bird Protection Quebec has been a leader in bird education, research and conservation–it has connected enumerable people to birds and the need to better protect them.

The work this organization and its many members do extends far beyond Quebec.

When it comes to birds, Quebec plays a critical role not just within Canada but across most of the Western Hemisphere. In large part thanks to its sizable amount of Boreal Forest—which has been dubbed “North America’s bird nursery”—Quebec boasts a tremendous number of breeding birds.


Between 300 and 500 million birds representing at least 180 bird species nest in Quebec’s Boreal Forest each summer. Most of these are migratory birds, and they grace nearly every pocket of the Americas after migrating south in the fall. From Central America and the Caribbean all the way to South America, the presence of Quebec-born birds is enormous throughout our hemisphere. As a resident of the adjoining State of Maine, I am particularly blessed by the outpouring of migrant birds each fall—whether it be an American Black Duck dabbling in a nearby lake before continuing its journey further south or the sight of an increasingly rare Rusty Blackbird that was raised just months ago in the lush thickets of Quebec’s Boreal Forest.

In many ways, we are at a crossroads when it comes to protecting birds. A combination of habitat loss and climate change are threatening a wide variety of North American birds. While much great work has been done to date, the decisions we make now and in the coming decades with regard to our lands, waters, and air will determine whether many species are able to adapt in the future.

An estimated 55% of the species’ North American population breeds within the Boreal Forest. Photo: Jeff Nadler

Preserving birds in the coming century will require seeing the forest and the trees. For many species—especially those that nest in colonies or high densities—smaller, regional protected areas can benefit a great number of individual birds. However, for the many birds that occupy the vast boreal forest, it is vital that protected areas are equally vast. It is for this reason that we must double down on our efforts to not only dramatically increase the number of protected areas in Quebec and Canada as a whole, but also ensure that they are large enough to benefit numerous species—including their ability to withstand and adapt to climate change.

It can be a bit depressing reading about the environment these days. Thankfully, though, there are still some stories of hope. Nearly three-quarters of Quebec’s Boreal Forest has been spared from major development to date, providing ample opportunities for large-scale conservation that other jurisdictions or countries simply no longer have.

Continuing on the great work and examples that have been achieved over the last century will be necessary to ensure our skies continue to be filled with birds in coming decades. Thankfully, there are organizations like Bird Protection Quebec that remain active and committed when it comes to protecting birds.

So here’s to a tremendous century of bird conservation and another one to follow!

Dr. Jeff Wells is the Science and Policy Director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative. He earned his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University and has published numerous scientific and popular articles, book chapters, and is the author of Birder’s Conservation Handbook: 100 North American Birds at Risk (2007), Boreal Birds of North America (2011) and Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao (2017).

To learn more about the Boreal Songbird Initiative, visit:
https://www.borealbirds.org/

To sign up for their e-updates, enter your email on this page:
https://www.borealbirds.org/boreal-bird-e-updates

Feather Fest Countdown: Feather Fact #9

Great Egret in breeding plummage ( Photo: Pixabay)

Three days to go to Feather Fest! Looks like the weather will be in our favour so don’t miss what’s sure to be a fun day!  A variety of family friendly activities are planned: enjoy a bird walk, learn bird ID, check out the live raptor display, get some bird-friendly gardening tips and more. You can even   take a break at BPQ’s Boreal Café and enjoy a cup of shade-grown coffee or  glass of lemonade! See the flyer for details and find location info here.

It’s all part of our 100th anniversary celebration, which is why today’s Feather Fact is drawn from bird conservation history.

Feather Fact #9 – Feathers worth more than their weight in gold.

 

The 19th and early 20th century plume trade resulted in the massacre of millions of birds for the sake of women’s hat fashion. For example, adult egrets were slaughtered while on the nest for their much admired “aigrette” feathers which only emerge in the breeding season. Whole rookeries of adults were killed en masse, the carcasses stripped for the feathers then discarded, and the nestlings left to starve. An account from 1900 notes plume hunters were paid  32$/ounce for feathers, which was almost double the price of gold at the time! Apparently it required the killing of 4 herons just to get an ounce of heron feathers. You can find more conservation history in this post.

Feather Fest Countdown – Feather Fact #5

Martha, the last of her kind, on display at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. The Passenger Pigeon is today's Daily Feather Fact inspiration.

Seeing as Feather Fest is part of our 100th Anniversary programming, today’s “countdown” post has a conservation history slant.
You may be familiar with the plight of the passenger pigeon. They once numbered in the billions (yes, billions!) and were so abundant that flocks could take days to fly over an area. Yet, after relentless hunting through the 19th and early 20th century, the last bird of the species, Martha, died in captivity on Sept 1, 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo. Which, by the way, was not quite three years before the founding of Bird Protection Quebec. They looked somewhat like a Mourning Dove on steroids, which might explain why they were popular in pies and common restaurant fare. But food wasn’t the only reason they were popular targets for market hunters. Here’s something you might not know.

Feather Fact #5. Let’s Get Down Tonight.

Passenger pigeons were not only hunted for table fare, their feathers were popular commodities too. One account mentions that In St. Jerome Quebec, a mattress stuffed with passenger pigeon feathers was considered part of a proper dowry. A mattress could contain the feathers of  as many as144 dozen pigeons! In some locales the feathers were highly desirable stuffing because it was believed they had healing powers. Of course their feathers were also probably a lot more comfortable than straw!

Hunting a flock of Passenger Pigeons  

If you haven’t been following along with our daily feather facts, we’re counting down to BPQ’s Feather Fest at Park des Rapides in Lasalle on Saturday, September 23rd with a Daily Feather Fact. It’s all part of our 100th Anniversary celebration programming. For event details, download the flyer in English or French.

Image sources: Hunting Scene (engraving) and Martha on display at the Smithsonian, Wikimedia.

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