Killdeer eggs at Bluesfest made NCC scramble, documents reveal

Moving the 'bluesnest' required a flurry of emails, several biologists and some pebbles from Dollarama — and one of the new chicks didn't make it very far.

Agency initially hoped to keep the birds under wraps

The killdeer laid its eggs in the middle of a cobblestone path near the Canadian War Museum, right where the Bluesfest main stage was supposed to go. (Simon Lasalle/CBC)

Documents show moving the Bluesfest killdeer required a flurry of emails, several biologists and some pebbles from Dollarama.

And while the migratory bird's eggs did hatch, one of the new chicks didn't make it very far. 

An access to information request to the National Capital Commission revealed the frantic efforts that hatched into action when the bird's nest was discovered near the Canadian War Museum, right where the Bluesfest main stage was to be built.

Initially, NCC staff wanted to keep the birds under wraps, worried they would draw a crowd that would put them in danger.

"Please let's not publicize," reads one email sent among commission staff on Sat., June 23, the day the birds first became an issue.

Another staff member also argued for keeping the issue quiet.

"It is important that this not be publicized to protect this bird from onlookers. Please emphasize that to media."

A killdeer poses with one of her hatchlings. The NCC worked hard to find someone who could move the nest to keep the festival on schedule. (Marc DesRosiers/Front Page Photo)

However, the story quickly took off with coverage in news outlets across the country and the commission eventually hired security to guard the site 24 hours a day.

Moving the eggs required a federal permit, which the NCC was quick to obtain, but they also needed someone to help them do it.

They reached out to several local groups to help with the move, but at least one did not want to be involved fearing both that they did not have the expertise and that the eggs would not survive. 

The NCC found Monica Melichar, with the Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary in Minden, Ont., who agreed to help with the move.

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After slowly, carefully moving the nest to a new location, licensed handler Monika Melichar says the only concern now is whether the loud music and vibrations of Bluesfest will disrupt the birds.

She drove four hours with "an egg incubator and the clothes on my back" to get to the festival. Only after she was on the way did they get the OK to move the birds. 

Bluesfest was definitely worried about the situation.

In a letter accompanying the NCC's permit request, they wrote that moving the main stage would be a major issue.

"Reducing the site's capacity and refunding pre-bought tickets would put a large financial strain on the festival's long-term viability and create a multitude of customer service problems," wrote the festival's executive director Mark Monahan.

Building a new nest 

To move the nest they needed to create a new one and gradually move the birds a metre at a time to a new home.

NCC biologists created a platform using something they hoped the birds would find familiar. 

"There are sheets of pebbles available at the local Dollarama that we glued to the towel, added additional pebbles and a grassy ring around the nest," reads one email from the documents. 

After the nest was successfully moved, NCC staff continued to keep an eye on the eggs until they hatched.

Staff working with an expert at Trent University monitored the eggs, including floating them in water and listening to determine if they were close to hatching.

"You can hear their peeping before they hatch. They start to communicate with their parents from within the egg," advised the expert in an email to NCC biologists. 

When three of the four eggs did hatch on Canada Day they moved across Wellington, but one didn't make it.

"The three young followed the parents across the road and unfortunately one young was run over by a car," reads one of the last updates on the birds released under access to information. 

The final egg hatched later and was taken to Ottawa's Wild Bird Care Centre.

The fourth killdeer egg hatched on the morning of July 1, 2018, but by that time the mother bird had already abandoned her nest. (Scott Pollard/Ottawa Bluesfest)

With files from Kimberley Molina