More on Ontario’s Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

Over a century ago, hundreds of thousands of Trumpeter Swans ranged across North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. However, because their skins and feathers were greatly valued by European settlers, the swans were hunted and harassed to the point where, in 1933, the North American population hovered briefly on the edge of extinction, with only 77 breeding swans in Canada and 50 in the United States. The last known Trumpeter Swan in Ontario was shot in 1886 by a hunter at Long Point on Lake Erie. Although the inclusion of the Trumpeter Swan in the Migratory Birds Convention of 1916 helped prevent the population from sliding into extinction by putting an end to the hunting of this species, it remained absent from Ontario for many decades.

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Voices for Wildlife

Eastern Newt

Eastern Newt

Hi all, given the number of petitions I’ve seen lately speaking out against shooting Snowy Owls at La Guardia airport, building wind turbines along critical migratory pathways and the like, I’ve started a Facebook group where I can post the petitions I’ve signed in an effort to share them with like-minded people. If you wish to add your voice to those in support of our wildlife and our planet, please join the group and check out the petitions I have posted! Please also share with any Facebook wildlife groups you belong to. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a ready-made base of 100 or 1,000 supporters for any petition worthy of signing?

January 10, 2014: the Facebook page has been updated to a group.

When Owls and Airplanes Don’t Mix

I was sickened to hear that three Snowy Owls were purposely shot and killed at New York City’s JFK Airport this past weekend. Why? Even though they are protected from trapping and shooting (according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, anyway), they were added to the Port Authority’s list of birds it may kill to protect airplanes from bird strikes after one of them apparently resting (the article uses the term “nesting”) on top of a taxiway sign on a runway got sucked into an airplane turbine. Other birds that have been added to the “kill list” include Canada Geese, Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, Rock Pigeons, American Crows, Double-crested Cormorants (huh?) and Mute Swans. Most of these birds gather together in huge flocks – sometimes consisting of hundreds of thousands of individuals – in the winter and during migration, and are considered pests as a result of the noise and the mess they leave behind. Snowy Owls, on the other hand, usually appear in singly or in small groups, and spend most of their time sitting still, whether on a sign, a rooftop, a treetop or the ground. They blend in so well with the winter landscape that most of the time you wouldn’t even notice if one was around.

Snowy Owl
Ottawa, 2006

This is turning out to be another irruption year, with hundreds of these beautiful white owls flying south in search of a safe, food-rich place to spend the winter. Snowy Owls depend on birds and small mammals to survive, in particular rabbits, hares, squirrels, weasels, mice and voles. As a result, Snowy Owls prefer large, open treeless places in which to hunt. With so many owls moving south again this winter, it is clear that there isn’t enough food up north for all of them. They are going to find it difficult enough to survive as it is without being placed on the Port Authority’s “kill list”, which even wildlife experts don’t understand as the owls “are not part of a large population and they are easy to catch and relocate, unlike seagulls.”

Logan Airport in Massachusetts does exactly that – instead of killing these majestic northern visitors, they capture and relocate them to a safer place. Not only that, but Logan Airport even attaches transmitters to the healthiest birds, helping to contribute to our scientific knowledge about these birds’ movements in irruption years. So if Logan Airport has been able to develop a much more humane and enlightened response to this issue, why can’t the New York Port Authority take a page out of their book instead of condemning the owls to death? The answer: one owl got sucked into an airplane turbine, and someone overreacted.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Many people are sickened and concerned by the way the Port Authority is handling this situation. A petition is taking off on, asking the Governor to stop shooting the owls and to rethink their approach to Snowy Owls and other birds that visit Metro-Area airports. I urge you to sign and share it with as many of your Facebook friends as you can.

If you have a twitter account, please send a tweet to @NYGovCuomo asking him to follow the lead set by Boston and #saveoursnowyowlsNYC.

If you live in New York State, you may also wish to mail, email, or telephone Governor Cuomo and share your concerns.

When it comes to protecting our wildlife, every voice matters.

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UPDATE: WOW! As I was writing this the Port Authority announced that it is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation in order to relocate snowy owls and to “strike a balance in humanely controlling bird populations at and around the agency’s airports”. What an awesome job by everyone who voiced their concerns!

Blue-spotted Salamander

Blue-spotted Salamander

Blue-spotted Salamander

After I left the Brant at Dick Bell Park I continued on to Shirley’s Bay. I spotted a pale bird gliding low over the field on the west side of Rifle Road and was thrilled to see a male Northern Harrier gracefully hunting for small mammals. I sometimes see these birds flying over the marshy spit on the bay; I think this was the first time I’d seen one flying over the nearby fields.

I parked at the boat launch, called to get permission to go out on the dyke, and then took the trail through the woods since the river was so high. Unlike the last time I had visited Shirley’s Bay, there were very few birds in the woods. I heard a couple of robins, saw a couple of chickadees, and had three Blue Jays fly over and that was it….there was nary a migrant to be seen.

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Happy World Wetlands Day!

While most people know February 2nd as Groundhog Day, few people realize that it is also World Wetlands Day. World Wetlands Day originated in the Iranian city of Ramsar on February 2, 1971 with the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, an international treaty that promotes the conservation of wetlands and their resources. The first modern treaty designed to protect natural resources, 2,083 sites comprising 488 million acres of land have been designated as wetlands of international significance under the Ramsar Convention.

The Convention’s mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”. “Wetlands” is a term that is defined broadly by the treaty, and includes lakes, rivers, swamps, marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas, tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, as well as human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans.

Mer Bleue
Designated as a Ramsar Convention Site on September 26, 1995

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Ottawa: The most “wildlife unfriendly” city in Canada

The City of Ottawa hates wildlife. It seems to me that Canada’s capital city would prefer to live under a plastic bubble where no pesky rodents, Canada Geese, insects, amphibians, and other wildlife can enter rather than find ways to live in harmony with the fauna we share our land with. The City of Ottawa has shown time and time again that when it comes to dealing with wildlife conflicts, it believes there is only one solution: to kill the “pest” that is causing the problem. Whether it is gassing groundhogs, killing moose, encouraging the senseless slaughter of coyotes by refusing to end the coyote-killing contests, or actively live-trapping (i.e. KILLING) beavers and destroying their lodges, the City of Ottawa resorts to barbaric measures each time a conflict arises instead of considering progressive and humane alternatives.

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Response from Premier McGuinty

Coyote seen near Milton Road, Feb. 20 2011 On February 9, 2011, I wrote to Premier Dalton McGuinty voicing my opposition to the coyote-killing contests being held in Eastern Ontario. I finally received a response on April 14, 2011. 

The response is a typical form letter, and doesn’t really address my concerns about the contests being held to encourage the wide-scale destruction of these animals.  The email does say that the government is “not considering a cull” and that “enforcement officers will continue to carefully monitor coyote hunting in the province to ensure that hunters are following the law”.  It is clear the Premier doesn’t understand why this issue is so upsetting to animal and nature lovers and people who value biodiversity and ecological balance more than appeasing hunters, farmers and land owners.

I think it’s time to write again.

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Another year, another coyote killing contest

A year ago I blogged about the The Great Coyote Kill, a coyote-killing contest sponsored by the Osgoode Township Fish Game and Conservation Club in order to eradicate the “infestation” of coyotes in the Osgoode area. I was urged, and urged readers of this blog, to write to Mayor Larry O’Brien asking him to oppose the contest.

Unfortunately neither the City nor the Minister of Natural Resources accepted responsibility for the issue and the contest was allowed to run. They must not have killed enough coyotes during their last contest or over the summer (coyotes may be legally hunted all year round) for this year another “cull” is taking place. And even though it has been brought to the Minister of Natural Resources’ attention that such contests are illegal pursuant to Section 11(1) of the Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act, no action is being taken to stop the contests.

Wildlife Ontario and the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre have been active in bringing this issue to the attention of Ottawa city councillors, Ontario’s MPPs, the Minister of Natural Resources, Premier Dalton McGuinty and the local media. Now they are urging the public to write to the Premier and ask him to stop the senseless slaughter. The Wildlife Ontario page provides tips for what to say in your letter, links to the MPPs of Ontario and city councillors of Ottawa, and several informative and thought-provoking links to articles published in various newspapers recently. I have taken points from many of these articles in my own letter to Premier McGuinty.

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Northern Hawk Owl

A Northern Hawk Owl has been spending the last month or so near Low, Quebec right in the exact same location where one had been seen in the winter of 2006-07. Speculation is that it is the same individual, but since the owl is not banded I suppose we’ll never know.

Deb and I made the trip across the border on a bitterly cold morning last weekend. We didn’t see much on the drive up other than a few Blue Jays, crows and ravens, and at first we didn’t see a single bird after we’d left the highway. There was no sign of any Purple Finches picking grit up off the road this time.

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A Call to save the Beaver Pond Forest

Chalk-fronted Corporal
Marathon Trail, June 2009

A few months ago I blogged about the need to support the preservation of the South March Highlands in Kanata. While Ottawa’s city council did in fact consider ways to save this beautiful old-growth forest from development, a new City Council has been elected since then, and it is up to them to continue working to preserve the Beaver Pond Forest section of the South March Highlands. The Council will be voting on this matter on Wednesday, December 15, 2010so time is of the essence.

If you, like me, hate to see the continual destruction of our beautiful forests and wetlands, please send an email to the Mayor, with a copy to your City Councillor (for those of you who live in Ottawa), urging him to make the preservation of the Beaver Pond Forest a priority. The mayor and new council are well aware of this issue, and don’t need a long letter explaining it….a short email will do. You can email Mayor Watson at

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