Some of Nova Scotia's at-risk bird species are down to fewer than 1,000 adults

Several bird species are at risk in Nova Scotia, including the piping plover and the chimney swift. Habitat loss is a major factor.

Fewer than 50 pairs of breeding piper plovers in the province

There are fewer than 50 breeding pairs of piping plovers in Nova Scotia (Ron d’Entremont)

This is the fourth in a series of stories from CBC's Information Morning about species that are struggling to survive in Nova Scotia, and the people who have vowed to save them. 

Piping plovers are iconic in Nova Scotia. But despite attempts at conservation, there are fewer than 50 breeding pairs in the province.  

"That's always such a shocking number to hear, but there are very few pairs left breeding on our beaches," said Sue Abbott, Nova Scotia manager with Bird Studies Canada. 

Bird populations are in trouble everywhere — one recent study suggested that 40 per cent of the world's bird species are declining — and, in Nova Scotia, the piping plover isn't the only bird species at risk.

Sue Abbott, middle, is the Nova Scotia program manager for Bird Studies Canada (Donna Hatt)

The majority of bird species of concern in Nova Scotia come to the province for the breeding season, including the roseate tern, the Bicknell's thrush and the chimney swift.

The chimney swift spends roughly May to September in Nova Scotia.

"They used to nest and roost in large hollowed trees … and those don't really exist on our landscape anymore," said Abbott. "They've adapted, thankfully, and now they do use chimneys."

Even with that adaptation though, chimney swifts are endangered. There are fewer than 1,000 birds in the Maritimes.

Habitat loss, cat predation leading to decline

Habitat loss is one of the factors contributing to the decline of bird species everywhere, including Nova Scotia.

"That is the main threat to the chimney swift … and that's really the case for a lot of species at risk."

Insect-eating birds are also affected by the global decline in flying insects.

Outdoor cats are also a major threat to birds, with one study by Environment Canada suggesting that cats kill more than 200 million birds a year in Canada. 

Protecting bird habitat essential

Keeping cats indoors isn't the only way that people can help protect bird species.

Abbott said Nova Scotians can also help protect the habitat of birds in other places, by opting for things like shade-grown coffee.

"It's a little more expensive than [sun-grown], but we know that shade-grown coffee plantations are more beneficial to a lot of species."

Chimney swifts are threatened by habitat loss. There are fewer than 1,000 swifts in the province. (Ron d’Entremont)

Abbott also suggested taking steps to ensure birds like plovers aren't disturbed, such as avoiding walking on dunes and keeping dogs on leash.

"There's ways that people can help, just by, you know, giving these birds space and giving them safe spaces for nesting."

Ultimately, part of protecting bird species, Abbott said, is learning how to live more lightly on the land, to allow birds more space to live, too. 

With files from CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia