London earns official status as "bird-friendly" city

London is the first mid-size city to be certified for its efforts to protect migratory birds.

Nature Canada created the designation to protect North America’s declining bird population.

The barn swallow and other aerial insectivores, birds that catch insects in flight, have seen some of the largest declines in population of all bird species in Canada. Common species like the barn swallow and chimney swift have declined to less than a quarter of their 1970 numbers. (Nick Saunders)

London, Ont. is one of the first Canadians cities to be recognized by Nature Canada for being an ally to its winged friends.   

Bird populations in North America have declined by three billion over the past 50 years - nearly the population of China and India combined. 

The majority of those losses are driven by habitat destruction caused by human-related threats such as pesticide use. Other causes include window collisions and insect declines. 

Nature Canada developed its Bird Friendly City certification over the past year to encourage Canadian municipalities to become safer and better places for birds. 

"Through the certification, not only do we want to provide a framework where cities can implement policies and actions to reduce those losses or to reverse those declines, but we also want to celebrate cities that have reached a level where they are doing their part in protecting bird populations," said Nature Canada's Urban Nature Organizer Aly Hyder Ali. 

London's policies successfully met the certificate's three categories: threat reduction, increasing and protecting its natural habitats, and community engagement and education. 

The London Bird Team is polling Londoners to select an official City Bird species. In order are: The Chimney Swift, Bank Swallow, Great Horned Owl, Northern Cardinal, Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Black-capped Chickadee and Peregrine Falcon. (The London Bird Team )

Overall, London ranked high for mitigating the impact of outdoor cats on bird populations through its bylaws. The city was also recognized for its work to mitigate window collisions and reduce light pollution, as well as protecting biodiversity. 

London joins Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary in obtaining the certification.     

"We're hopeful that through the announcement of these first four certified certified cities, other cities will also follow the lead and be inspired to implement these policies, because ultimately this sort of collective collaborative action is very much required if we are to stem these declines," said Ali. 

As part of Nature Canada's engagement initiatives, members of London's environmental community have banded together to form the London Bird Team. Organizations include the City of London, London Environmental Network, Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre, among others.

The population of London's resident birds is stable compared to those that visit for part of the year. Brendon Samuels, an avian researcher who serves as the Bird Team's coordinator, said that it's important to concentrate outreach efforts during the spring, summer and fall to reduce threats to birds that are passing through. 

"We can encourage people to get outside with their binoculars and be aware of what is happening in the environment. These birds are really special and I like to highlight that," said Samuels, who is studying for his PhD at Western University in the Advanced Facility for Avian Research. 

"The same individuals that we protect here fly down to Central and South America for parts of the year. So really, this is about London being on the map and doing our part to protect birds that belong to the entire world."

In addition to hosting webinars and celebrating World Migratory Bird Day on May 8, the London Bird Team is also polling Londoners to select London's official City Bird on its website. Options are the Chimney Swift, Bank Swallow, Great Horned Owl, Northern Cardinal, Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Black-capped Chickadee and Peregrine Falcon. 

Samuels said he's honoured by Nature Canada's certification, as London is the only mid-sized city to join ranks with the other three.       

"It's a nice opportunity to sort of take a step back and look at all the great things that we are already doing for birds in the forest city," Samuels said. "Birds are culturally, economically and ecologically really important to the identity of our city. And so I think this certification is a way for us to celebrate that."