The deaths of thousands of songbirds at the Canaport LNG terminal more than three years ago resulted in a $750,000 penalty against the company, and now some of that money will be used for migratory bird conservation, according to Nature NB executive director Vanessa Roy-McDougall. 

The non-profit, charitable organization working to protect New Brunswick's natural heritage will get $125,000 to help support groups and programs studying bird migration and conservation.

In September 2013, thousands of birds were drawn to a 10-to-15-metre gas flare during a period of fog and low cloud. Twenty-six species of migratory birds died, including four Canada warblers, a threatened species.

Canaport LNG pleaded guilty to federal charges under both the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Species at Risk Act.

Red-eyed vireo

A large number of red-eyed vireos were among the estimated 7,500 migrating songbirds killed by the flare at Canaport LNG. (Courtesy of the Migration Research Foundation)

Hawk Watch funding

The funding will enhance the work of the Saint John Naturalists' Club's two bird migration monitoring programs, according to Roy-McDougall.

"Some of the money will go toward the Greenlaw Mountain Hawk Watch, which observes the hawks that migrate along the coast in the fall," she said. "In the spring, it will fund their project at the Point Lepreau Bird Observatory."

Travel Trip Hawks in Flight

A hawk in flight: part of the $125,000 allocated to Nature NB will fund the Greenlaw Mountain Hawk Watch, according to executive director Vanessa Roy-McDougall. (Carolyn Caster/Associated Press)

The project, which has been going on for 20 years, identifies the bird species that use the coast as a flyway in the spring.

"All of that information will be entered into a North American database that helps researchers look at the types of hawks that migrate, when they migrate, and the species," said Roy-McDougall.

Why birds matter

Bird species conservation is particularly important in this region, Roy-McDougall said, because bird health is a solid indicator of what's happening in the ecosystem as a whole.

"They're really sensitive to habitat loss and that sort of thing," she said. "If we're seeing fewer birds, then it's time to start thinking, 'well, what does that mean? What is the problem?'"

By examining those questions, local businesses are able to adjust their practices, and "do things like stop the flare in time so that birds don't run right into it and die," Roy-McDougall said.

Another component of the the funding will be used to develop partnerships with local businesses, giving them the tools they need to conserve and protect birds in the future.

"This is a great opportunity to be able to consistently fund this work for the next three years," said Roy-McDougall.

With files from Information Morning Saint John