The Canada geese were in formation over the skies of St. Marys Sunday morning, beginning their annual migration south. But their flight didn’t seem to lessen their noisy, dropping-depositing numbers on farmers’ fields, sports grounds or riverside walkways.
If there is any species of wild fowl that isn’t endangered, threatened, or otherwise at risk of being given some label by wildlife conservationists, it’s Canada geese. According to a recent news release sent out by Ottawa-based Nature Canada, however, that definitely puts the species in the minority.
“New research published today finds that a staggering 269 million birds are killed every year as a direct result of human-related activities,” stated the Oct. 2 news release. “The research suggests that about 90 per cent of the 269 million birds killed fall under the protection of the Migratory Birds Convention Act and that the major causes of death include feral and pet cats, agriculture, oil and gas activities, and collisions with buildings.”
Death by cats; and death by collision with buildings — those are self-explaining scenarios. The other two “causes” offered by Nature Canada — agriculture; and oil and gas activities — are significantly more difficult to pin down.
Oil spills are an obvious, high-profile example of the industry’s possible effect. But these are sufficiently rare that it would be tough to blame a great number of bird deaths on spills. Instead, the industry-supported Canadian Pipeline Environmental Committee — in a document entitled “The Pipeline Industry and the Migratory Birds Convention Act” — mentions emergencies like spills as the third in a list of three main factors. The top two factors are land disturbance due to construction; and “sensory disturbance” due to noises, vibrations, and other effects.
Agriculture’s effects, meanwhile, tend to relate to habitat and food chain disturbance. Larger and larger blocks of unfenced farmland translate into decreased habitat. And increasingly more effective elimination of insect pests from the agricultural landscape — either directly through insecticide; or indirectly, through the removal of the weed plants necessary for the insects’ survival — translates into less food for the birds.
Nature Canada argues that, as a signatory to the Migratory Bird Treaty with the US, Canada’s federal government has an obligation to conserve migratory bird populations in Canada.
“We are deeply troubled by the disquieting research published today on the number of birds killed every year in Canada due to human-related activities,” the news release states.
The conservation group offers concrete steps that can be taken to hopefully decrease bird deaths due to the two easy-to-explain factors. These include “better building standards from developers; muting reflective surfaces by angling glass or adding awnings or overhangs . . . reducing light pollution . . . (and) keep(ing) your cat indoors, especially around dawn and dusk.”
But for the oil industry and agriculture, solutions are significantly more complex — and, perhaps, less likely to be implemented without government pressure.