Canada's Declining Bird Populations Warrant Urgent Conservation Action

Almost half of all (44%) of all bird species found in Canada have experienced population declines since 1970 according to a recently released report on the state of Canada’s birds. Of particular concern, populations of grasslands birds have declined by 45% on average since 1970.

“The health of bird populations can serve as a gauge of ecosystem health, so it’s important we pay attention to these trends,” says Madeline Wilson, Alberta Wilderness Association conservation specialist. “The earlier we observe declines and implement conservation and recovery plans for species at risk, the more effective and beneficial those actions will be in conserving entire ecosystems.”

Published by Environment Canada on behalf of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, the report compiles population data gathered since 1970. Overall, it found that Canada’s total bird population has decreased by 12% since 1970. 

Grasslands birds, migratory shorebirds, and aerial insectivores (birds that eat flying insects) have experienced the most severe declines. The cause of these population declines has been mainly attributed to habitat loss and degradation due to oil and gas development, forestry, intensive agriculture, wetland drainage, urban expansion, and climate change.

In Alberta, less than 1% of the Grasslands Natural Region lies within protected areas, despite the fact 75% of species at risk in the province rely upon grasslands habitat. The prairies are some of the most intensively altered landscapes in Canada; due to intensive use and conversion, more than 70% of native prairies and wetlands have been destroyed. Endangered grassland species such as the Greater sage-grouse require immediate habitat protection and restoration to prevent their imminent extirpation.

In central and northern Alberta, the Western Boreal region provides important wetland habitat for migratory shorebirds, songbirds, and water fowl. Wetlands face many threats across the province; due to wetland drainage for agriculture and development, pollution, invasive non-native species, and increasing droughts, it is estimated that 80 acres (about 45 soccer fields) of wetlands are lost every day. 

 “At the highest level, the provincial government needs to do more to protect these landscapes, and sooner rather than later. By setting aside land to protect endangered species, like sage-grouse, a myriad of species at risk living in that ecosystem will benefit. This report is a call to action for all Canadians to protect our wildlife and their habitat before it is destroyed.”

To view the full report, click here.  

For more information:

  • Madeline Wilson, AWA conservation specialist, (403) 283-2025