Pesticide commonly used on Canadian farmland linked to bird declines

4_barnswallow1-nicksaundersControversial pesticides, which are used “prophylactically” on millions of hectares of Canadian farmland, have been linked to not only the declines in bees, but also birds. A Dutch study released Wednesday provides the strongest evidence yet that neonicotinoids are harming insect-eating birds like swallows, which are in sharp decline.

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Saving Banff’s grizzlies

The Wild Side, Part Five

Published September 2, 2012

By Margaret Munro

BANFF, ALTA. _ The craggy peaks of the Rocky Mountains dominate the landscape, the turquoise waters of the Bow River sparkle in the afternoon sun. But Colleen Cassady St. Clair is not here for the view. She is getting a feel for the increasingly constrained life of grizzlies in Banff National Park.

The University of Alberta biologist and her graduate student Benjamin Dorsey take off their boots, roll up their pants and step barefoot onto an electrified mat straddling the Canadian Pacific Railway track. They jump right back off, yelping as a jolt runs up their legs.

“Just what we’re after – intense, fleeting pain,” says Cassady St. Clair.

A specialist in human-wildlife conflict, she is game to try almost anything to help animals co-exist with people — even if it entails a bit of short-term discomfort for the grizzlies in Canada’s premiere national park.

Wildlife conflicts don’t get much more dramatic, or intractable, than the one involving the iconic bears, an iconic company, and Canada’s most iconic park. Continue reading

Return of the ‘hoodies’: Tough little bird flies off endangered list

The Wild Side, Part Four

Published August  26, 2012

John Allair checks on a Hooded Warbler nest for Bird Studies Canada. Glenn Lowson photo

By Margaret Munro

PORT ROWAN, Ont. – Jody Allair isn’t out of his truck two minutes when he tilts his head ever so slightly and picks up the song of a hooded warbler.

“There’s the male,” he says, as a tiny yellow bird flits away in the maples overhead.

Then Allair ducks into the forest, skips across a swampy patch and gingerly approaches a small shrub looking for the female. He gives the thumbs up.

“She’s sitting on the nest looking at us right now,” he whispers, pointing at what looks like a clump of dead leaves.

But Allair knows his birds – and he really knows “hoodies,” having spent 10 years with Bird Studies Canada helping document the hooded warbler’s remarkable recovery.

Sure enough, there is a female on a nest less than a metre off the ground.

Hooded warblers used to be one of Canada’s rarest birds. Fifteen years ago, there were believed to be about 100 breeding pairs in the country.

But the hoodies’ fortunes have improved – dramatically. The population is now estimated to be between 1,000 and 2,000 adult hooded warblers in Canada, and wildlife experts are recommending the hooded warbler be dropped from the list of 650 species at risk in Canada. Continue reading

To bee or not to bee: Endangered species vanishing without explanation

The Wild Side, Part Three

Published August  19, 2012

By Margaret Munro

TORONTO – Sheila Colla wades into the pye weeds, her net swooping over the pink flowers. “This is bumble bee heaven,” she says, as she catches a bee and nudges it from the net into a small plastic vial for inspection.It’s a lemon cuckoo bumble bee, one of the strange cast of characters in the bee world. The cuckoo bee invades colonies, usurps the queen and enslaves her workers.

There is no sign, however, of the rusty-patched bumble bee that Colla has been searching for all summer. It used to be one of the most common bees in southern Ontario and Quebec but is now one of the rarest.

In fact, the rusty-patched bumble bee, known to scientists as Bombus affinis, is the first bee in North America to be officially declared an endangered species. Continue reading

Canada’s docile ‘living fossil’ can’t handle the heat

Published August 12, 2012

The Wild Side, Part Two: As the human footprint expands across Canada, so does the threat to the country’s wildlife. There are now 650 species officially listed as endangered, threatened, special concern, or no longer found in the wild in Canada. In part two of the series, Postmedia News looks at a small mammal scientists refer to as “a living fossil.”

The Mountain Beaver, shown here after being caught by BC researchers, is the most primitive rodent alive in the world today. Photo by Michelle Holst

Fresh green ferns and leaves stacked up at the entrance of the tunnel are a dead giveaway. The “living fossil” is in.

But good luck seeing the creature, which is known as the Mountain Beaver.

It is so elusive that homeowners near colonies on mountain slopes outside Vancouver are often unaware that the strange little mammals are nibbling on carrots in their backyards.

“They’d have no idea,”  says wildlife biologist Pontus Lindgren, who studied one colony that had been raiding gardens.

While the creatures share a name with the much more common North American Beaver, that is pretty much where the similarities end.

Mountain Beavers are, as scientists put it, a “living fossil.”  They are the most primitive rodent alive in the world today, the only remaining representative of a family of creatures that dates back at least 25 million years, long before humans walked the Earth. Continue reading

Obscure and unloved: Federal government spurns a chance to help boost three endangered species

August  6, 2012

The Wild Side, Part 1

As the human footprint expands across Canada, so does the threat to the country’s wildlife. There are now 650 species officially listed as endangered, threatened, of special concern, or no longer found in the wild in Canada. Government and environmentalists have often tussled over conservation efforts.  Postmedia News science writer Margaret Munro  looks at some vulnerable species across the country, beginning with those that are most unloved.

Part 1

Senior Staff Scientist at Ecojustice, Susan Pinkus is pictured at Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC (BEN NELMS for Postmedia News)

VANCOUVER – In a good year, the tangle of leaves and stems on southern Vancouver Island can grow up to six metres long. It’s been sprouting out of the ground every spring for decades.

The plant, a Coast Manroot that grows from huge, human-sized underground tubers, is one of Canada’s most endangered species. It’s also one of the most obscure and unloved.

Maintenance crews and mowers have been whacking away at the plant near Victoria – one of the 18 known manroots still alive in Canada – and grazing animals have trampled and killed several others. Continue reading

Grassland, shorebirds face deep declines

Once common species like the Barn Swallow, shown here, have declined to less than a quarter of their 1970 level. Photo credit: Nick Saunders


The barn swallows and chimney swifts that swoop through Canada’s skies devouring insects are in serious trouble, with populations down more than 75 per cent since 1970.

Shorebirds are also dis-appearing – their numbers are down by almost half, according to the first comprehensive report on the health of Canada’s birds, to be released Wednesday.

The news is not all bad. Eagles and other raptors have made dramatic recoveries thanks to bans on pesticides such as DDT.

And duck and geese populations are booming, says the report on the billions of birds that spend at least part of the year in Canada. Continue reading