Fall, a very sunny, very breezy day on the lake, Amanda and I sitting in the cabin minding our own business.Suddenly, …thwack…… well, it was a sort of tiny miniature thwack, but a thwack nonetheless. Peering outside through the window, we could see the the last death throws of a tiny greenish bird that had run into the window. The lighting conditions must have been just right for this bird to think that it could fly through the cabin, because this was an odd and unusual event. (We later made further adjustments to the window to see to it that this did not happen again, of course.)But ex morbido cum ergo identeo, or words to that effect … we were at least able to get a really good look at this tiny warbler, it being dead and all. And it turned out to be one of those rare Canadian tundra species that is only seen in Minnesota for a few minutes while it is whizzing past on its way to Ecuador or even beyond Ecuador.The migration route these tiny critters follow is quite impressive. Why do they do this? How do they do this? Who knows….It is getting more and more difficult for migratory birds, not only because of people building hoses with glass windows along their migratory routes. They are also suffering from the effects of habitat loss at both ends of their migratory routes, as well as at key stopping places along the way.According to Bird Life International,
Acting as a giant bird nursery ground, Canada’s vast boreal forest forms a vital component in a chain of sites which run all the way down to South America. The essential breeding habitats of the boreal are being endangered by industrial development. This is being highlighted by the ‘Save Our Boreal Birds’ campaign, which is encouraging people to sign an online petition, urging the Canadian Government leaders to protect the forest.While the majority of the Canadian boreal is presently considered ecologically intact – and around 8% is currently protected – nearly a third of the land has been allocated for ecologically detrimental activities such as oil and gas exploration, mining and logging.Jen Baker – Boreal Outreach Coordinator for Ontario Nature – commented: “In Ontario alone, over 45,000 migratory bird nests were lost in 2001 due to logging”. Given that development is proposed in virtually every Canadian province and territory, the future of the boreal ecosystem, and the birds that breed there, is in the balance. “Please sign our online petition today and help to stop this from happening again”, said Baker.This campaign also reflects International Migratory Bird Day (10 May 2008), which celebrates the incredible journeys of migratory birds. This year’s theme ‘Tundra to Tropics’ emphasises the connections between breeding grounds – like the mighty boreal forest – and wintering areas in Mexico, Central, and South America. A brightly-coloured bird which captures the spirit of these remarkable journeys is Canada Warbler Wilsonia canadensis which breeds in the boreal forest and has suffered a 45% population decline over the last forty years (Borealbirds.org).Having spent the summer breeding in the wettest areas of the boreal, Canada Warblers are one of the first birds to migrate. Leaving at night – and often travelling in pairs – they follow a chain of staging grounds along the Gulf coast and into southern Mexico; eventually reaching wintering grounds in the Tropical Andes. It is estimated that as many as 300 million boreal forest birds – including Canada Warbler – journey to the Tropical Andes region each year. At each stage of the journey, birds may face threats such as habitat loss, hunting and collisions.A major challenge for conservationists is to reduce these dangers by preserving the key breeding, staging and wintering sites.BirdLife’s ‘Neotropical Migrants at Important Bird Areas (IBAs)’ initiative is a good example of joined-up conservation in action. “By identifying, protecting and sharing knowledge about IBA sites between North and South America, we hope that species such as Canada Warbler will be able to continue their yearly long-distance commutes” commented Dr Rob Clay (Americas Region Senior Conservation Manager, BirdLife International).IBAs are identified on the basis of objective and globally accepted criteria. “The network of IBAs represents a unique opportunity to link important sites in the breeding, passage and wintering ranges of individual migratory species, and to conserve biodiversity”, noted Dr Clay. Since 2003, BirdLife has identified 97 IBAs in Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador which support wintering populations of Canada Warbler.By campaigning to protect valuable breeding habitat, and joining-up our conservation programmes all along the migratory flyway, both the ‘Save Our Boreal Birds’ petition and ‘Neotropical Migrants at IBAs’ initiative are helping to protect all stages of the birds fragile annual cycle.