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Environment Canada report blames human causes for bird deaths
Do you know what your favourite furry little feline friend does when he or she goes outside for some fresh air and exercise?
According to a new report from Environment Canada there's a strong possibility that Felix is killing birds, with the national death toll ringing in at about 200 million annually.
That's just one of nine leading causes of bird deaths related to human activities listed in the federal agency's study on avian mortality across Canada.
A further 25 million birds are killed by electrocution from power lines and collisions with houses, 14 million are hit by cars and trucks, five million are killed by hunters, 2.7 million from agricultural pesticides, 2.2 million from agricultural mowing, close to one million from commercial forestry, and 220,000 by flying into communications towers.
The extent to which these activities happen in Delta is unknown, although the region is host to some of the most diverse and numerous bird species in Canada.
Local bird author Anne Murray is an annual participant in the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, which observed 146 different species on Dec. 23, 2012. Located along the bird migration route known as the Pacific Flyway, Delta frequently trades places with Victoria for top birding area in Canada.
"I've often wondered why the power lines are not amalgamated because the municipality is just criss-crossed with wires," she said.
Murray said it's important that buildings try and keep songbirds from crashing into windows as well.
"Young threshers and first year sparrows are the ones that often do hit windows and you can buy decals to put on your windows that work," she said.
The report noted that although domestic cats number 8.5 million in Canada, the estimated 1.4 million to 4.2 million wild or stray cats kill double the amount of birds as their collar-wearing brethren. But Murray said house cats still hunt and kill birds even if they're not hungry.
"They're an animal, it's their natural instinct," she said. "And we have bird feeders that encourages birds to come a little bit closer to houses."
Murray said the report might cause people to reconsider what hours they allow their cats to go outside and restrict frequent trips that may be contributing to predation of birds.
Although raptors, seabirds and waterfowl have all rebounded in recent years, many small bird populations are declining according to a 2012 report on The States of Canada's Birds released by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. Canadian breeding bird populations overall have decreased 12 per cent since 1970, with aerial insectivores plummeting 70 per cent in that time.
Murray said that even if people don't like birds they need to recognize their importance to the ecosystem.
Although agricultural uses are listed as having a negative effect on birds in the Environment Canada report, the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust notes that its programs help protect bird species and provide resting areas during migration.
"For 20 years, the Trust has worked with local farmers to manage farmland in a way that is beneficial both to soil conservation and preservation of wildlife habitat," said program coordinator Christine Terpsma. "We have six stewardship programs available to the farming community, including our grassland set-aside program, which provides an average of 550 acres of tall grass habitat throughout Delta and Richmond on an annual basis."
This fallow grassland becomes habitat for small mammals which are then hunted by raptors listed under the Species-at-Risk Act, including the short-eared owl and barn owl. Terpsma said such habitat provisions are a key component to sustaining raptor populations in Delta.
A Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust report from March also notes that their Winter Cover Crop program helps feed the thousands of migrating Arctic snow geese each year. According to that report, overall snow goose populations rebounded to 120,000 in 2006 from a low of 50,000 in the mid 1970s.
An infographic from an American humour website on how much cats actually kill:
Graphic via TheOatmeal.com