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Why birds matter

Life – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects, and their habitats – is intimately connected. This web of life is known as biodiversity. We humans are part of this web of life – and we depend on it for our very existence. In fact, this web of life is such a fine balance that removing one part would be like removing the leg from a table. And everything we do affects the web of life.

How we affect life can be clearly seen in the example of the passenger pigeon. Clearing the great forests of North American removed essential breeding grounds for the area. Over-hunting finished the species off forever. Birds which flourish in close proximity to humans – like Canada geese – have become over-abundant.

Migration: a key survival strategy

Most birds migrate, using the same route every year.

Not all birds want to fly over the open water of the Great Lakes. For instance, hawks use thermals to help them soar –  and those upward currents of warm air are generated by land masses, not water. So when they reach one of the Great Lakes, they fly around the lake. Prince Edward County (PEC) funnels birds towards the lake, where they then turn towards the east. This turns the south shore into a hot spot for migrating birds.

Bird monitoring at Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory shows that about 12 million songbirds migrate through the area between Presqu’ile Point on the west and Wolfe Island to the east.  Partly because of the numbers of migrants, the south shore of PEC has been designated a globally significant Important Bird Area. Identifying Important Bird Areas is a conservation strategy to recognize areas that are important to biodiversity – the web of life – and preserve species that could be at risk of extinction.

Fatal to migratory birds

In 2008, 86 industrial wind turbines were erected on Wolfe Island, just east of PEC and in the same migration flyway. Studies of the Wolfe Island turbines show that the number of songbirds  killed by these turbines is seven times greater than the North American average. That’s because the turbines are situated directly in a migratory corridor – and in a migratory bird landfall and staging (feeding and resting) area. And remember, Wolfe Island is at the edge of the migration route, while PEC is in the centre.

Gilead Power proposes to erect 9 industrial wind turbines at Ostrander Point, in the middle of the PEC South Shore Important Bird Area.  Environment Canada has recognized the importance of migration corridors in the environment assessment guidance document: Wind Turbines and Birds (2007). The Gilead project at Ostrander Point was classified as category 4. Despite this, very little attention has been given to the importance of the Ostrander Point area to migrating birds – or to the importance of migrating birds to the ecosystem and biodiversity.

Most songbirds migrate at night. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) in Toronto shows that night-migrating birds are fatally attracted to light. Turning off the lights in office towers has resulted in fewer dead birds. Industrial wind turbines must be lit to warn aircraft. The lights attract those night-migrators, especially in bad weather. Industrial wind turbines near the shore have proven to be especially dangerous to birds.

Environment Canada’s endorsement

Environment Canada has said that “(PEC) is one of the most important landfall sites in Ontario.  Unique about this particular site is that birds are ascending and descending during migration”…”Since birds on migration in this area can therefore be found at tower height, and are typically very tired and stressed when descending, they may be more at risk of collision with wind turbines”. (Environment Canada, March 4, 2008, File No: 2007-096)

The Senate’s support

In December, Canada’s Senate unanimously passed a motion:
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the province of Ontario should institute a moratorium on the approval of wind energy projects on islands and onshore areas within three kilometres of the shoreline in the Upper St. Lawrence-Eastern Lake Ontario region, from the western tip of Prince Edward County to the eastern edge of Wolfe Island, until the significant threat to congregating, migrating or breeding birds and migrating bats is investigated thoroughly and restrictions imposed to protect internationally recognized important bird areas from such developments.

The view from Nature Canada

As Nature Canada says, “Wild birds are not owned by anyone but the responsibility of all of us. Birds are highly valued by society and deliver a great number of ecological services as well as cultural benefits (e.g. First Nation harvest of ducks and geese, ecotourism industry built around birds). Given that birds and their presence is overwhelmingly a public good, it is misguided to vest the welfare of birds in the hands of those whose wealth-generating activities could potentially kill birds. While most wind energy proponents may be responsible, there will be some that are not. We believe that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is gambling with a public good in allowing the wind energy producers to self-monitor. The resultant data will lack public confidence.”

An ill thought-out project

Conservation measures would save as much or more energy than will be gained by this ill-thought out project at Ostrander Point. All indications are that this project will kill many more migrating birds than other projects because it would be in a major migratory corridor.  Migratory birds are important to biodiversity and many species are in decline because of environmental factors, habitat loss and pesticide use at their wintering grounds. No justification can be made to further risk their populations by erecting industrial wind turbines in crucial flight paths such as Ostrander Point.

* * *

The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, founded in 1997, is an affiliate of Ontario Nature. It provides an educational forum dedicated to the study, promotion, appreciation and conservation of the flora and fauna within Prince Edward County.  The public is welcome at the meetings held on the last Tuesday of the month from September to May, except December, at Bloomfield Town Hall.  Guest speakers introduce a variety of nature related topics.  All members are encouraged to participate at meetings by sharing their experiences and observations. Regularly scheduled field trips in the vicinity offer members the opportunity to experience various habitats. Membership in PECFN is open to all. Contact: Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, P.O. Box 477, Bloomfield, Ontario K0K 1G0 Or Cheryl Anderson 613-471-1096

NEXT MEETING: Tues. Jan. 31 7pm Bloomfield Town Hall: Members’ Night presentations. Everybody welcome.

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About the Author: The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, founded in 1997, is an affiliate of Ontario Nature. It provides an educational forum dedicated to the study, promotion, appreciation and conservation of the flora and fauna within Prince Edward County. The public is welcome at the meetings held on the last Tuesday of the month from September to May, except December, at Bloomfield Town Hall. Guest speakers introduce a variety of nature related topics. All members are encouraged to participate at meetings by sharing their experiences and observations. Regularly scheduled field trips in the vicinity offer members the opportunity to experience various habitats. Membership in PECFN is open to all. Contact: Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, P.O. Box 477, Bloomfield, Ontario K0K 1G0 Or Cheryl Anderson 613-471-1096

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