Urban development, resource extraction and wind turbines are threatening some of the most important bird habitats in Canada, a new report says.

Four of Canada's top bird habitats have made a list of 356 around the world that are considered "in danger," in a report by the conservation group BirdLife International:

  • Boundary Bay in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, one of Canada's richest sites for migratory waterbirds.
  • Prince Edward Point in eastern Ontario, another important area for migratory waterbirds.
  • N.W.T.'s Mackenzie River Delta, an important habitat for snow geese.
  • Lancaster Sound Polynya in Nunavut, an important habitat for a small seabird called the dovekie.

Some of those areas are not protected at all, while others are only partially protected.

Snowy Owl Wow 20121203

Boundary Bay is one of the richest sites in Canada for migratory waterbirds, and is sometimes also popular with snowy owls. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Most of the sites are threatened by industrial development, ranging from the potential to become shipping corridors in the case of the northern sites to two wind energy projects in the case of Prince Edward Point. Nature Canada, one of BirdLife International's partners, worries that wind turbines could kill birds as they migrate through the area.

Meanwhile, Boundary Bay — located in B.C.'s biggest urban area — faces multiple threats.

"You've got intensification of agriculture happening, expanding urban development, expanding port development and infrastructure, recreational pressures, shipping pressures, you have all this happening together," said Andrew Couturier, who works with Bird Studies Canada, one of BirdLife International's partners.

Much of it is farmland that birds rely on as a place to rest and forage, Couturier said. But it's being fragmented as the land is converted to other uses, such as housing subdivisions.

Private land

Couturier said protecting the land completely isn't realistic, because so much of it is private.

"It's one of those places where birds are right in there with the people," he said.

But he hopes that at least some of the land can be better protected and its fragmentation reduced with careful land management and development decisions by municipal governments.

"Part of what we're doing is … bringing attention to them, getting them on the radar of their municipal governments to make a point that these are important sites," he said.

Meanwhile, Nature Canada is concerned about increasing ship traffic around Boundary Bay.

"A tanker oil spill near Boundary Bay would be catastrophic for birds and marine mammals," said Eleanor Fast, executive director of Nature Canada, in a statement.

In 2013, the BirdLife International reported that one in eight bird species in the world is threatened with extinction, largely owing to unsustainable agriculture and climate change. In Canada, a 2012 report found that the bird population has fallen 12 per cent since 1970.

In an effort to promote the conservation of birds and their habitat, BirdLife International and its partners have identified 12,000 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas around the world, including almost 600 in Canada.

The sites are habitats for:

  • Large congregations of birds — at least one per cent of the global population of a given species.
  • Species ranked as being of special concern on a list such as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

For the 356 species recently listed as threatened worldwide, BirdLife Canada says the biggest threats are unsustainable agriculture and aquaculture, along with human disturbance, although most areas in danger face multiple threats.