New Brunswick

Fewer bird sightings possibly caused by shift in migratory patterns

 A change in migratory patterns may be the reason for fewer sightings of birds this fall, the Atlantic regional director of Birds Canada says.

Number of migratory birds has declined by three billion since the 1970s

The yellow warbler is a type of migratory bird that can often be seen in New Brunswick but hasn't been spotted much this year. (Submitted by Laura Tranquilla)

 A change in migratory patterns may be the reason for fewer sightings of birds this fall, the Atlantic regional director of Birds Canada says.

Laura Tranquilla, who's also a biologist in Sackville, said she suspects the birds aren't stopping in New Brunswick while flying south for the winter.

The boreal forest of northern Quebec and Newfoundland had a bountiful seed crop this summer, which may have better prepared the birds for the long trip, she said.

"If the food runs out then when they're migrating, they need to stop frequently to pause and get a snack and move on, just like when you go for takeout when you're hungry when you're travelling," Tranquilla said.

Laura Tranquilla, the Atlantic regional director of Birds Canada, said habitat loss, climate change and industrial interference can disturb bird populations. (Submitted by Laura Tranquilla)

"The idea is that the birds that nest there are in quite good condition, and so they don't have to stop as frequently when they're flying south."

Jim Wilson, a naturalist who volunteers at Point Lepreau Bird Observatory, said he also noticed the decline in the number of birds, including robins, thrushes and yellow warblers.

"It seems like [there's] a general quietness everywhere you go, in southern New Brunswick at least," Wilson said.

Wilson also noticed there are still lots of berries on trees that weren't picked away by birds, and he's even received calls from people saying their bird feeders are untouched.

Jim Wilson said the decline in bird populations in New Brunswick isn't a good sign for the environment. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

He agreed with Tranquilla in that the birds may have skipped over New Brunswick, and he doesn't think it's a good sign.

"An absence of birds translates into kind of an ominous sign in our environment ... we do know through some of these recent announcements of studies that there's a number of factors, but it seems especially dramatic this fall," he said.

Tranquilla said it's tricky to understand why bird populations are declining. because every season is different, but a changing climate, industrial interference and habitat loss could be to blame.

"The habitats of the planet, the forests and the fields and the places where birds live in large numbers, are just being chopped up into little pieces," she said.

She also said she can't be sure if the death of 7,500 migratory birds at Canaport LNG in 2013 is a contributing factor this season because there are changes each year.

Three billion migratory birds, or about 30 per cent, have been lost since the 1970s, according to a recent report published by Science magazine.

Tranquilla said the decline in the bird population is a warning sign people should take seriously. 

"Birds are really telling us about the state of our planet," she said. 

Magnolia warblers are popular migratory birds in the Maritimes that feed on red berries. (Submitted by Lucas Berrigan)

"Even if you don't care about birds, it's a signal for us to realize that we're not treating the planet well and birds are just giving this signal over and over."

Tranquilla said everyone can do small things to help protect birds such as reducing single-use plastics, keeping cats inside and helping birds that hit windows.

"I've heard the phrase, 'Not on my watch,'" she said. 

"It might be not looking great, but I think while we're here, we all have a responsibility to do the best we can to try and make things better, even if we're not sure what the long-term story is going to be."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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