May 7, 2021

World Migratory Bird Day 2021

Animal Welfare

I love birds, and this time of year I spend every moment I can outside to take in the sounds and sights of the return of our migrant birds. My skin tingles with the excitement when I hear a new species in our yard!

Bird migration in much of south-eastern Canada peaks in early May. Appropriately, the second Saturday in May is recognized globally as World Migratory Bird Day. This is a day to celebrate and honour nature’s feathered creatures that migrate between countries and continents, and in doing so, tie our world together and make it a bit smaller. Canada is a country of migratory bird species. About 80 percent of the 450 species that breed in Canada leave our borders each fall to spend their non-breeding season elsewhere. Most of them go south. Some, like Eastern Bluebird and Red-winged Blackbird, don’t go that far - overwintering in the continental USA, while others such as Barn Swallow and Purple Martin spend their non-breeding seasons in Brazil and other parts of South America. Those long-distance migrants travel tens of thousands of kilometres each year!

Each year World Migratory Bird Day has a special theme - this year the theme is “Sing, Fly and Soar like a Bird.”  The theme is intended to raise our spirits in the way that listening to the melodic Eastern Meadowlark’s song or admiring Barn Swallows swooping acrobatically over hayfields, or watching the seemingly effortless circles of a Red-tailed Hawk on invisible pillows of rising air does.

It is also a day to remind us of the little things that we can and should do each day to help our feathered friends - not only those domesticated ones that provide us with food, but also those wild ones that keep our forests and gardens healthy from insect damage and bring us so much joy. In 2019, we learned that North America has lost three billion birds in the last fifty years, meaning that there are about one quarter fewer birds now than there were in 1970. Human actions are driving those losses, but the good news is that we can turn that around and actually help bird populations recover, starting with our own decisions, yards and properties.

Here are some things you can do to help birds on your property:

● Protect birds from colliding with windows by making the windows visible.
● Keep your house cats from roaming outside and make sure the barn cats are sterilized.
● ensure there is good ventilation at the upper level of your barn to prevent excessive heat build-up in the summer (or paint the roof white to reflect sunlight).
● increase passive foraging habitat near the barn area for swallows (wildflower meadows/ pasture/ hay) as opposed to row crops).
● leave a several metre wide buffer along any waterway to protect the water from pesticide or fertilizer run off.
● Maintain any nesting boxes - clean them out in the winter, make sure they are not occupied by mice, and add predator protection to reduce access by predators such as raccoons, squirrels and snakes.
● Make your lawns and gardens more natural, using local species, eliminating use of pesticides, and creating habitat that will benefit birds.
● Put out water and keep it clean in a place that birds can easily and safely access.

Nature Canada is partnering with Burnbrae farms to help our threatened and declining populations of swallows. We are thrilled with that partnership, which developed over the last few years as Nature Canada built its campaign to “Save our Swallows.” If you haven’t visited Nature Canada’s Save Our Swallows webpage, check it out here , especially the resources . We have fact sheets and beneficial practices for all of the swallow species in Eastern Canada that are downloadable pdfs.

Also visit Nature Canada’s World Migratory Bird Day site for fun ideas on things you can do and also a map of events taking place (still mainly virtual events due to the pandemic restrictions) across Canada.

Birds really do connect up with the natural world. I challenge you to take some time this spring and get familiar with the songs and sounds of the birds around you. There are lots of technology and resources that can help identify birds, but nothing replaces experience. Once you get to recognize their voices and songs, a walk outside is never the same.

Ted Cheskey

Naturalist Director, Nature Canada