Respecting migrating and nesting birds
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Respecting migrating and nesting birds

March 20, 2019

The BC SPCA is asking pet guardians to be sensitive to migrating shorebirds and nesting birds this spring. Dogs running off-leash on beaches and tidal flats often rouse flocks of shorebirds, who then swirl in circles looking for another quiet place to land. While the birds may not be hurt directly, the harm done to them is indirect. If the birds aren’t able to feed and build their energy reserves to fly to the next staging ground in their migration, they could perish in flight. The Pacific coast, particularly the Fraser River delta, is part of an international migratory bird flyway and crucial feeding ground for thousands of shorebirds.

Photo by Terry Jones

Researchers from Simon Fraser University have recently discovered that, along with insects and worms, 70 per cent of a shorebird’s diet is made up of a paper-thin slime of biofilm found on tidal mudflats. Migrating birds such as sandpipers, red-necked stints and dunlins suck up this slurry. With such a short timeframe to stay ahead of the weather, shorebirds must spend as much time as possible on the ground eating so they have the energy to fly hundreds of kilometres to their next stop. With each disturbance, time and energy are wasted.

Also during spring, thousands of waterfowl build nests amongst the grasses along waterways. During the month-long incubation period, female ducks and geese are quietly sitting on their eggs while the males remain nearby to guard the nests.

Photo by Lily Campbell

From April to June, if you see male ducks and geese patrolling pathways near the water, this is your signal to keep dogs out of the grassy areas along shores. Marauding dogs often flush the birds off their nests, sometimes stepping on the nests and jeopardizing the egg clutches. Not only does this harm the birds but under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act it is illegal to disturb the nests of migratory birds – including waterfowl and songbirds. A summary offence can be up to a $50,000 fine or up to six months in jail. With worldwide populations of shorebirds and waterfowl in decline, largely due to habitat destruction and pollution, a threat easily avoided is to keep our pets away from sensitive wildlife habitats – particularly during the crucial nesting and migration times.

The same can be said for cats who prey on songbirds. Spring is the time when outdoor cats can do the most damage to vulnerable nestlings and fledgling baby birds. If you are one of the minority of people who allow their cats to go outdoors, it is important to supervise your cats’ outdoor time or have an outdoor enclosure to keep them confined to your yard. This is particularly critical for people living close to parks, creeks, ravines or other natural areas where songbirds nest and are most at risk. Songbird populations are also in steep decline across North America, so reducing threats we can control makes sense. Kitty can still enjoy the outdoors, but in consideration of wildlife as well as cat welfare.

Photo by Brenda Gooder