Black-capped Chickadee Calgary’s official bird

Bird vote engagement more popular than Olympics

Ward 11 Councillor Kourtney Penner holds up a stuffed animal version of a Black-capped Chickadee to announce the bird as the official bird of Calgary vote at the Weaselhead Flats in Calgary on Saturday, May 14, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The vote is in, and Calgary has a new official bird.

The Black-capped Chickadee took the bird vote count by a wide margin, earning 44 per cent with 16,114 votes cast from the total of 36,667.

The Black-billed Magpie—a.k.a. Team Magpie, which had earned a wildly popular social media presence leading up to the vote, took second place with 8,933 votes. That was about 24 per cent.

The Northern flicker came third at 17 per cent, Blue Jay fourth with eight per cent, and Red-breasted Nuthatch fifth with seven per cent.

“Am I happy that my Team Chickadee bird won? Absolutely,” said Ward 11 Councillor Kourtney Penner.

“I think regardless of who was the winner, what we saw was Calgarians really take a moment to stop and appreciate the wildlife that we have in the city,” she said.

And as for whether Team Magpie would get a judicial recount of the vote, Coun. Penner laughed at the suggestion.

“I will have to check with our clerks to see what kind of process we can go through on that one.”

The vote came about as a result of Coun. Penner putting forward a motion to city council to continue to recognize Calgary as a bird-friendly city. Overall, the process took about two years to come about, with consultations with the Calgarians, the birding community, and Indigenous communities about what birds to select.

Although Calgarians only had five birds to vote on, the number of suggested species was more than 40.

The results of the vote were released on Saturday, which was also World Migratory Bird Day.

Reflection of interest in biodiversity

One in roughly 33 Calgarians took part in the vote.

The City of Calgary saw well above average engagement throughout the entire bird vote process. Engagement numbers were higher on this file than on Calgary hosting the Olympics.

“We recognize that an overwhelming number of Calgarians engaged on the portal, voted for their birds and are some of the highest engagement numbers we’ve seen on any issue, or any topic in Calgary, which is really wonderful to see,” said Coun. Penner.

“I think right now it goes to show that we need good news stories. We need things that are friendly, we need things that are approachable, and we need things that span all ages.”

John McFaul, chair for Bird Friendly Calgary, said that the vote wildly exceeded what the group was expecting.

“I was expecting maybe 5,000 people if we’re kind of lucky. Then we ended up getting 36,000 plus people voting, so I thought that was tremendous,” said McFaul.

“It just reflects Calgarians are interested in what’s going on in their natural areas and in their backyards,” he said.

Birding not so underground an activity

McFaul said that while bird watching formally might be in a sense an underground activity in the city, interest in birds isn’t.

“We walk around back alleys within Calgary looking at what birds are around in the wintertime, just before Christmas, and there’s probably upwards of 20 or so percent of the houses you go by have bird feeders,” he said.

He said that one thing he liked about the Chickadee was how early they would start singing in the spring. But said McFaul, the Magpie was also a popular choice for birdwatchers because it’s not a species that is present in Canada’s east.

He joked that a subset of the Bird Friendly Calgary team was adamant that the Magpie should have been the winning bird.

Speaking at the announcement at Weaselhead Flats, Tsuut’ina Councillor Corrine Eagletail-Frazier said that she didn’t realize just how much interest there was in, or respect for, birds in the city.

“I think it’s really important to have the wildlife active and thriving here, and it’s due to a lot of the changes that’s happened on the land, like the road going through,” she said.

Culturally, she said it was important to recognize and maintain the natural inhabitants in that part of Calgary.

Emphasis on helping Calgarians create biodiversity

Bird Friendly Calgary hopes that one of the outcomes of the vote is that Calgarians have a greater appreciation for biodiversity in their own communities.

Shane Roland, past president of the Calgary Center of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and a member of Bird Friendly Calgary team, said that they were working on a series of information pamphlets for Calgarians.

These would help address some of the major causes of bird deaths in the city, like free-roaming house cats, and bird strikes into windows. They’re also working on information on how to turn a backyard into a biodiversity oasis.

“This whole exercise has been very key in raising awareness about the plight of birds in urban areas,” said Roland.

He said that one thing that every Calgarian could do to improve outcomes for birds was to minimize the amount of light pollution.

“Just turn off the lights to save birds,” he said.

He said that this would help to minimize the attraction of insects at night, would stop birds flying into windows, and would provide better health outcomes for birds by not interfering with their natural cycles.

For more information on birds and biodiversity in Calgary, see www.birdfriendlycalgary.ca.

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