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Eagles soar while Swallows sputter - New Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario reveals surprising trends for bird species in the province

Tuesday, January 29th 2008 1:59:53pm

Eagles soar while Swallows sputter

New Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario reveals surprising trends for bird species in the province

(Toronto, Ontario, January 29, 2008) A ground-breaking new atlas is revealing major trends about the health of Ontario’s bird populations. Compared to just twenty years ago, many bird species have declined precipitously whereas others have made remarkable come-backs. Population trends are generally positive for birds of prey, but biologists are expressing concern about the fate of grassland birds and those that feed on flying insects.

“Results from the atlas show population trends are literally all over the map,” said Mike Cadman, project coordinator for the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario. Many of the increases result from conservation activities. “For Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and Merlin, news is pretty much all positive because these raptors are recovering well since pesticides like DDT were banned in the 1970s. Bald eagles have increased four-fold province-wide – even more so in the south – and peregrines are back from the brink.”

“Interestingly, most of Ontario’s biggest birds have also increased dramatically in the twenty years since an earlier atlas was conducted,” added Cadman. “Three swan species, Bald Eagle, Sandhill Crane, and most dramatically Canada Goose and Wild Turkey have all increased tremendously.”

“Unfortunately, the future seems much bleaker at the moment for some other species,” said Gregor Beck, atlas board chair and co-editor. “For grassland species and birds that eat flying insects, the trend is very worrisome. Formerly widespread birds like Common Nighthawk, Whip-poor-will, Chimney Swift and 6 species of swallow are becoming scarce at an alarming rate. Most of these species have seen a 30-50% decline in two decades and the Nighthawk and Swift have recently been designated as “threatened” species in Canada. Birds of grasslands,  wetlands, and scrublands are declining significantly in the Carolinian region between Toronto and Windsor.”

“Results from the atlas will be put swiftly to use to help protect birds and ecosystems,” said Caroline Schultz, Executive Director of Ontario Nature, a project partner. “The loss of grassland habitat to intensive agriculture, for example, is having a negative effect on species like the endangered Northern Bobwhite and the more common Bobolink. The fact that the biggest overall declines are in southern Ontario highlights the need for conservation efforts here. Atlas data will help identify patterns in population change and chart recovery routes.”

Another extensive atlas survey will be conducted from 2021 to 2025. “Hopefully by then conservation actions will have helped some species currently in decline to rebound,” concluded Beck. “We look forward to more success stories like the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon.”

-30-

For further information, please contact:

Mike Cadman, 519-826-2094, cell: 519-820-2462,  mcadman@uoguelph.ca
Gregor Beck, 519-586-9361, cell: 647-285-2966,  gregor.beck@xplornet.com
Caroline Schultz, 416-444-8419 ext. 237,  carolines@ontarionature.org

Backgrounder


After five years of intensive research and collaboration by Ontario’s leading bird conservation organizations and provincial and federal governments, the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005 has been published and reveals some surprising changes in bird populations and ranges in recent decades.  

Over 3,000 volunteers collected 1.2 million individual bird records, in a systematic grid stretching from the islands of Lake Erie to the shores of Hudson Bay. There was unprecedented coverage of remote areas of northern Ontario and the boreal forest. The comprehensive, 728-page atlas includes over 900 coloured maps and 400 photographs of Ontario’s 286 breeding bird species. This atlas expands on the first atlas project of 1981-1985, published in 1987, allowing the comparison between the two datasets to show changes in distribution and abundance of Ontario’s breeding birds. The trends from this research are compelling.  

Additional highlights from the atlas:
• Tree planting, conifer plantations, and natural forest regeneration are helping to increase forest cover and provide needed habitat for forest birds in southern Ontario.
• Evident importance highlighted for the Niagara Escarpment, Oak Ridges Moraine and “The Land Between.”
• As a result of extensive data collection using new methods, maps of relative abundance were created for the first time for many species, showing which parts of the province are most important to each, and allowing for better conservation planning.
• Climate change results for southern Ontario are equivocal. Although the range edge of 15 species expanded northward in southern Ontario, consistent with climate change predictions, the range edge of 29 species expanded southward. The birds expanding to the south are mostly forest birds, likely taking advantage of increasing forest cover south of the Canadian Shield in southern Ontario.

Top 10 increasing species in the province as a whole:
Canada Goose
House Finch
Blue-headed Vireo
Turkey Vulture
Wild Turkey
Merlin
Eastern Bluebird
Pine Warbler
Bald Eagle
Sandhill Crane

Top 10 decreasing species in the province as a whole:
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Bank Swallow
Blue-winged Teal
Red-headed Woodpecker
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Brown-headed Cowbird
Spotted Sandpiper
Killdeer
The extensive coverage provided by the atlas allows the best provincial population estimates ever available for many species, though they are rough approximations. The ten most abundant species in Ontario are listed below. All but two of these species are concentrated primarily in the Boreal Forest and the Hudson Bay Lowlands of northern Ontario. The American Robin and Red-eyed Vireo are concentrated farther south.

Species Population estimate

Nashville Warbler 15,000,000
Chipping Sparrow 12,000,000
Dark-eyed Junco 12,000,000
Golden-crowned Kinglet 12,000,000
Magnolia Warbler 12,000,000
White-throated Sparrow 12,000,000
Yellow-rumped Warbler 12,000,000
American Robin 10,000,000
Red-eyed Vireo   9,000,000
Swainson’s Thrush   8,000,000

The atlas book will be formally launched in:

• Ottawa on January 30, 6:00 – 8:00pm, at the Canadian Museum of Nature (240 McLeod Street; Discovery Zone, 4th Floor)
• Toronto on February 10, 2:00 – 5:00pm, at the Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queens Park, “Loblaws” entrance)

More information about the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario is available at www.birdsontario.org. Copies of the book can be purchased by calling 416-444-8419 or 1-800-440-2366 ($92.50 plus GST; price includes shipping); for online sales, follow the links from www.birdsontario.org.

For further information, please contact:

Mike Cadman, 519-826-2094, cell: 519-820-2462,  mcadman@uoguelph.ca
Gregor Beck, 519-586-9361, cell: 647-285-2966,  gregor.beck@xplornet.com
Caroline Schultz, 416-444-8419 ext. 237,  carolines@ontarionature.org
Jon McCracken, 519-586-3531 ext. 205, jmccracken@bsc-eoc.org