John Cooke doesn’t mind if you tell him he’s for the birds.
“Actually, I’ll take that as a compliment,” he laughs. That’s because Cooke is an avid birdwatcher and is deeply concerned about the decline in bird populations in the last few years. He and a small group of volunteers are working hard to protect birds in Sarnia.
They call themselves Sarnia’s bird team and say they need the help of every resident in the city. Sarnia is on the migratory path for many bird species so our parks and nature trails are often alive with birds. That’s why it may not seem like local bird numbers are declining, but they are, said Cooke, a retired chemical engineer.
“I’m a birdwatcher – there’s a lot of us in Sarnia/Lambton – and I was out today in Canatara Park and saw 30 different species in about 90 minutes,” he said. “I don’t think the number of species has dropped but the numbers within those species definitely have.”
Birds are an important part of the ecosystem and their decline reflects the decline of other insects and animals, Cooke said. Like everything else in the ecosystem, they need
to be protected. Nature Canada says that in the last 50 years, North America’s bird population has dropped by more than 25%. The environmental organization says three billion birds, including common species that live in towns and cities, have died since 1970. Much of that is due to human activity.
Birds can be saved if people make changes or municipalities get onboard with bylaws that protect them, Cooke said. That’s why he and Sarnia’s bird team formed a year ago. Raising awareness and educating the community on how to be more bird friendly will help stop the decline.
Nature Canada rewards cities that are bird friendly with certification and Cooke’s team wants Sarnia to earn that distinction. Only 16 cities across the country have been certified so far including Windsor, Toronto and, most recently, London.
“It’s going to take a lot of work for us to get there but we’re going to do it,” Cooke said. “We’re already doing a lot of things right and there are groups like Climate Action Sarnia/Lambton and Lambton Wildlife making a difference. “But we need more awareness and a lot more action.”
So what more can be done? The Sarnia bird team suggests:
• applying decals or etchings on windows so birds don’t hit the glass, especially if you live in a highrise or forested area of the city;
• plant more native flowers and trees in your yard;
• don’t let your cat roam outside;
• put a birdfeeder or birdbox in your yard to attract nesting birds;
• limit use of insecticides or herbicides and look for neonicotinoid-free seeds, plants, fertilizers and pesticides;
• don’t cut off the flower seed heads in the fall. Let the birds eat them in winter;
• join the local bird team. Email [email protected] for more information;
• vote for your favourite local bird on Sarnia’s bird team Facebook page. A contest is under way to name an official Sarnia bird, all in the name of raising awareness;
• learn about light pollution and how to reduce light especially during migration season.
“I know some people say they don’t notice birds, and they wonder why birds are important?” said Cooke. “It’s easy to just take them for granted.”
Beyond their important role in the ecosystem, each bird species has unique colours, sounds and habits. Becoming a birdwatcher is an enjoyable and educational outdoor hobby, he said.
“It’s like a treasure hunt to find them. It can become kind of compelling actually.”
What is a bird friendly city?
A Bird Friendly City is a community where:
• Key threats to birds are effectively mitigated;
• Nature is restored so native bird populations can thrive;
• Residents are actively engaged in admiring and monitoring local bird populations;
• Organizations are creating events to protect birds;
• Progressive municipal policies are created to protect urban bird populations; and
• A Bird Team has been created to oversee and lead these initiatives.
Source: Nature Canada