An Article submitted to Niagara At Large by Lynda Goodridge
Posted November 24th, 2021 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – This past October, Deb Sherk (a fellow Fort Erie resident and President of the Fort Erie-based Bert Miller Nature Club) and I made a presentation to our local Fort Erie Town Council (in Niagara, Ontario) asking them to consider working towards becoming a Bird Friendly City.
At a council meeting this November 22nd, we were pleased to see Fort Erie Council approve a motion, directing the town’s staff to “provide a memorandum offering suggestions on how staff can investigate and provide recommendations on becoming a Bird Friendly Municipality.”
This initiative is actually a process that leads to certification, under guidelines developed by Nature Canada. It recognizes the efforts made by cities to save birds and to acknowledge the important role that they play in maintaining our ecosystems.
A major study done by Cornell University, specifically the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, shows a cumulative loss of nearly *three billion* birds since 1970, across most North American biomes (aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, tundra).
This new study finds steep, long-term losses in virtually all groups of birds in Canada and the U.S. Another way to phrase this is from the Audubon Society which states that North America has lost more than 1 in 4 birds in the last 50 years.
About 90 percent of the missing birds came from 12 distinct and widespread bird families – including warblers, sparrows, blackbirds and finches. Grasslands in particular posted the biggest losses, with more than 700 million breeding individuals lost across 31 species since 1970.
However, not all species declined and some have shown steady gains over time. Two examples are waterfowl – this group has seen an increase of 34 million since 1970, largely due to wetland conservation efforts and Raptors (such as bald eagles) – this group has gained approximately 15 million individuals since DDT was banned in 1972.
These numbers show that taking steps like wildlife management, habitat restoration and political action can have a significant impact in saving species in steep decline.
There is no doubt that humans have a huge impact on birds and their habitat. So how can we mitigate or better yet, reverse this impact? Three main areas are the focus of becoming a Bird Friendly City.
First – we have to reduce the threats to birds through regulatory and educational measures, such as threats from cats, collisions and loss of habitat.
A bill was recently introduced in the Ontario Legislature urging the Province to adopt a policy regarding bird friendly materials to be included in the construction of all new residential and commercial buildings. Locally, we can promote the use of bird friendly window treatments and perhaps incorporate these strategies into new buildings.
Second – we have to protect the habitats where birds live by factoring in the well-being of birds (and people, of course) when planning any urban development. The planning of any new urban development must prioritize habitat protection and restoration. We also need an effective tree management policy that will protect, enhance, improve and restore our natural habitat.
Third – we have to create impactful community outreach and education, such as participating in and celebrating World Migratory Bird Day, encouraging residents to plant bird friendly gardens, making people aware of the dangers of letting their cats roam freely, and suggesting reasonable window treatments that can help avoid bird collisions.
As a Bird Friendly City, there are many benefits.
In addition to attaining international recognition and a sense of community pride, we can use this to our economic advantage. Bird-watching is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world and ecotourism can be an economic driver.
Birders love to travel to see birds and they spend their money in local restaurants, hotels and stores. Local businesses might be able to use this as a marketing tool, and it might encourage them to embrace some of the suggested changes as well.
A detailed application from Nature Canada lists the items that count towards certification and assesses the performance on key issues. There are three levels of certification, so this will be an extended process.
We have a Bird Team ready to move ahead with the project, once the Town is on board. At the October 25th Council meeting, Councillor Mariana Butler made a notice of motion for Town staff to investigate the certification process and report back to Council before the November 22nd meeting. The Councillors then voted to proceed.
Some quick facts:
· Nearly 3,000,000,000 birds have disappeared since 1970
· Birding is a very popular hobby. The number of people enjoying this hobby has increased 30% in the Niagara area since Covid began.
· According to Quartz.com, businesses that sell birdfeed and backyard bird feeders reported sales increases of approximately 45% since Covid.
· Novice birders contributed to a new record for spotting bird species on Global Big Day – an annual bird-watching event run by the eBird program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
· People are moving to the Niagara area to enjoy our natural areas, parks, woods and trails. Bird watching is part of this desire to be in nature.
· Birding is a pastime which requires little in the way of equipment, expertise or knowledge. It can be enjoyed by people of all ages and stages.
Lynda Goodridge is Past President of the Bert Miller Nature Club (currently a board member), a board member of Community Voices of Fort Erie, a citizens group working to save Waverly Woods in Fort Erie, and a meber of the Niagara Falls Nature Club and Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara.
Deb Sherk is President of the Bert Miller Nature Club and has been a member of the club since 2011. She has been actively involved in conservation issues in the Niagara are for more than 40 years.
For more information on ‘Bird Friendly Cities’ in Canada, click on – https://naturecanada.ca/defend-nature/how-you-help-us-take-action/bfc/#certified .
You can find out more on Bird Friendly Cities in North America by clicking on – https://www.featherfriendly.com/blog/title/beginners-guide-to-bird-friendly-legislation-in-north-america .
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