Surely the most watched and beloved of Canada's wildlife species are the birds we see in our backyards. Robins and woodpeckers, hummingbirds and goldfinches intrigue us with their antics or cheer us with their songs. We may take our birds for granted, yet they have a lot to teach us. They are often our first introduction to the ways of the wild.
Birds do a fabulous job of helping our ecosystems run smoothly. Here are some of the things they do:
- keep insects under control (and save us millions of dollars in agricultural and forestry efforts);
- pollinate plants and disperse seeds;
- bring millions of dollars to our economy through bird-watching activities;
- provide children with accessible encounters with nature; and
- delight and inspire us with their beauty and song.
Why Are Birds in Trouble?
Predators, alien species, climate change, disease, and toxic chemicals are among many dangers birds face in their short lives. The biggest threat is disruption and loss of habitat. As forests fall to chainsaws, native Prairies are ploughed under, marshes and swamps filled in and river valleys dammed, more and more wildlife species are squeezed out of existence. Habitats provide life support systems for all wildlife. Without habitat, there can be no wildlife.
How Big Is the Problem?
Canada is home to about 500 species of birds. Many of their populations are declining. Nearly 100 percent of all wildlife species decline is caused by human activity. The main cause is habitat loss. It’s a complicated problem: most of our bird species depend on many habitats for survival— summer nesting homes; winter homes; and rest and refuelling stopovers in between those two residences.
The statistics are grim, but the outcome need not be. We believe the best way to reverse these trends begins with action in backyards.
What do Birds Need?
Like you, birds need a spot to call home to survive. They need four basics to make a happy habitat: food, water, shelter, and space—arranged just right for them. Birds flitting about your yard is a sign that survival basics are nearby. If birds fly over your neighbourhood without stopping, something important may be missing. Think about it from the bird's view. If you were a bird, would you visit your yard or neighbourhood? Is there water nearby? Are trees close-by for nesting, perching, shelter, and viewing? Is food near? Is there enough space without feeling crowded?
Habitat Versus Ecosystem
Habitats and ecosystems are not the same, but you can't have one without the other. A habitat (or home) fills the living requirements (food, water, shelter, and space) of a specific wildlife species. An ecosystem is a living community of interacting elements—some living and some non-living—that depend on each other for the smooth running of the ecosystem. An ecosystem can contain several habitats. Many ecosystems and habitats are hard hit by human activities such as logging, dredging, urban sprawl, and pollution. When ecosystems and habitats disappear, so do the resident birds, plants, and other living things.
How Can You Help?
You can help backyard birds by teaching your students about them through observation, identification, and research. Which species live in your area? What do they need to thrive? How can you improve their habitat?
The strategy here is to engage students in activities that help them learn about birds and apply their learning onto maps of their community. Mapping is a good tool for students to identify and solve problems for birds in their neighbourhood. Mapping also helps them to learn about birds that live in other areas of Canada.
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