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Calgary one of Canada’s first bird-friendly cities

Calgary, along with Toronto, London, and Vancouver, were named by Nature Canada as one of Canada’s first bird-friendly cities.

This is no small feat. For a city to be certified, three categories, each with its own points and goals, have to be met.

The first category is reducing human-related threats to birds. This includes birds striking windows in both residential homes and downtown skyscrapers. As well as pets like cats wandering outside their homes and preying on birds or destroying their habitat.

These two threats are some of the greatest threats birds face. Window strikes kill millions of birds a year. Birds see reflections of trees in windows, believing they can fly through to more natural areas. They strike the window with full force and often do not fly away from the situation.  

Kathleen Johnson, co-founder of the Migratory Species Response Team, wants everyone to recognize the impact our homes have on birds.

“There aren’t very many of us that can say we’ve never had a bird strike our glass or found a bird under a window. And when you think about how many people there are in the world, and how many have had that experience, that is a lot of birds. If each of us marked our windows, we’d make a huge difference,” Johnson said.

Marking windows with lots of stickers or tape closely together will stop reflections. This makes it look impassable for the birds. There are also specific window films that people can see out of but are opaque on the outside. This also stops birds from seeing the reflections.

An American Robin hopping along in Baker Park. Northwest Calgary. ETHAN WARD / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Pet dangers

Cats don’t immediately jump out as a threat, but they have the potential to prey on baby birds that are learning how to fly.

Johnson notes how Calgary’s bylaws regarding cats were instrumental in paving the way to certification.

“The city of Calgary has such a robust bylaw service program. Designed to protect pets, but also to protect birds by being quite stringent in licensing, signage, and being successful at returning pets to their owners through the licensing program,” Johnson said.

“I remember back when the laws were first instituted how controversial it was to keep our cats in our property as opposed to letting them roam. We don’t think of the environment when we receive a ticket for our cat wandering around outside. But it actually impacts the environment a great deal.”

Moving on, we have the second category, which is habitat protection, restoration, and climate resiliency.

The points included in the category are utilizing native plants in public planning. Protecting trees on private and public land that birds need for nesting. Also ensuring pets like dogs do not ruin animal habitat when they are supposed to be on a leash.

Community engagement

The final and possibly the most important category is community outreach and education.

John McFaul, president of Nature Calgary, this category is grassroots and the part certain groups had in educating and reaching out to individuals.

“The big thing was gathering separate conservancy groups in Calgary and getting them to look at the criteria. We did some research and found some of the criteria had already been met, through the actions of the city and other agencies like ourselves. And so we documented those successes, and to complete the other criteria, we launched more programs of our own,” McFaul said.

Nature Calgary provides field trips to help people become more knowledgeable about birds in the Calgary area. There is the Calgary Bird Banding society, which bands birds throughout the spring and summer into the fall. That keeps tabs on the number of birds moving through the city.

That helps understand population trends, not only in the city but also in migration destinations.

“Groups like this made the certification possible,” McFaul said.

Individual efforts

While this certification from Nature Canada is an accomplishment. McFaul notes that there’s a lot individuals can do to try and further conservation goals.  

“On an individual level, making natural habitats in yards by planting trees can be supportive of birds. This provides them with shelter and nesting opportunities,” McFaul said.

“Lighting pollution is also a concern, so when people light their properties, they should ensure the lighting doesn’t extend outside their yard and go into the night sky. This harms songbirds which often migrate at night. That’s only a few things individuals can do.”

Bird Friendly Calgary is a volunteer group that was essential in having Calgary recognized as a bird-friendly city.

The group is holding a virtual event with the Calgary Public Library on May 8 to celebrate world migratory bird day, to help educate people about protecting our feathered friends.