How citizen scientists are helping to protect migratory birds

The quiet Canadian winter is beginning to burst forth into the colourful symphony of spring. Every year, millions of songbirds fly thousands of kilometres from their southern wintering grounds to breed in Canada. Among them is my favourite: the tiny Canada warbler, which to me is like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, but in our forests.

Weighing only as much as a AAA battery, the Canada warbler flies more than 5,500 kilometres from its winter home in South America to mate and nest in Canada. Canada warblers migrate at night and it’s possible for them to make their incredible annual journey up to eight times throughout their lives.

Unfortunately, like many Canadian songbirds, the Canada warbler is at risk of extinction. It’s legally listed as Threatened in Canada and as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in nearly every U.S. state that it visits. The main reason for the Canada warbler’s decline is thought to be human disturbance of mature forests in both Canada and South America. Without prompt and effective conservation efforts, the fate of the Canada warbler is almost sealed.

Many other birds are in trouble for similar reasons. It’s estimated that today, there are 1.5 billion fewer songbirds than there were in 1970. Of the 1,154 North American bird species, 426 of which spend at least part of their time in Canada, one third need urgent conservation action. We have to figure out how to better protect migratory birds.