Posted on January 18, 2010 (updated: January 18, 2010)

Environmental groups worried about bird declines as 50th bird count nears

Environmental groups are predicting that the 50th anniversary of Victoria’s Christmas Bird Count Circle on December 20th will produce results that are anything but golden as a lack of habitat protection in BC continues to harm bird

Environmental lawyer Sean Nixon of Ecojustice, formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund, said the BC government needs to introduce its own standalone endangered species legislation to help conserve vanishing habitat, like the Garry Oak ecosystems near Victoria that support a wealth of at-risk birds including the critically imperilled coastal vesper sparrow.

“The volunteers who scour Victoria to count these birds are marking a milestone this year. Unfortunately, they will likely find record low numbers of many bird species as BC’s natural spaces continue to be lost or fragmented,” said Nixon.

The volunteer-led count is one of the most reliable indicators of bird population changes in the Victoria area, as close to 200 volunteers monitor bird activity within a 24-kilometre-diameter circle. While the count has produced sightings of 220 bird species, 15 per cent of these species are at risk in BC.

This year, environmental groups including the David Suzuki Foundation are paying close attention to the results. The David Suzuki Foundation’s science technician, Michelle Connolly, said she is anxious to see just how bird sightings have fluctuated amid a half century of bird counts and human development.

“We’ve reached a point where 43 per cent of BC’s species are at risk. Birds we thought we could take for granted like the great blue heron and band-tailed pigeon are now species of special concern in BC,” Connolly said. “We hope the government is as concerned about the trend as we are and will give these birds real protection, which begins with protecting habitat.”

Ann Nightingale, who helps organize the bird count with the Victoria Natural History Society, said she is also concerned about a recent drop in bird sightings. Last year, only 134 species were spotted, down from the five-year average of 140. Some bird species were found in much lower numbers. There were only 47 Greater Scaup reported, a diving duck that has numbered as high as 3,100 in previous Victoria counts.

“Volunteers counting birds across the continent during a three-week period each year are able to provide scientists with the data they need to determine whether the birds’ ranges are changing or if there are real declines in the populations.  The trends for many species are very worrying,” said Nightingale.  “Greater awareness, however, can lead to success stories as well. There is still hope if we do what we have to do to protect our native species.”

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