CALGARY -- Calgary has been named one of the country's four bird friendly cities by the group, Nature Canada.

The designation came into effect in Calgary on May 7 — along with Toronto, Vancouver and London, Ont. — one day ahead of World Migratory Bird Day.

"There should be a lot of pride, I think sometimes we take for granted what's already happening in our own community,” said Kathleen Johnson, co-founder of the Calgary Migratory Species Response Team. 

However, Johnson stresses this is only an "entry-level" certification and more work needs to be done to help bird populations thrive in the city.

"This particular certification is not meant to be, slap the sticker on your city and you're done," she said.

"It's more like, great, you're doing great. Now, what we can do better?"

Reducing human-related threats

To be certified, cities must meet targets in three broad categories.

Human-related threats include bird strikes on buildings and pets either preying on birds or destroying their habitat.

While people may be aware that bird strikes on high-rise buildings are a serious problem, far fewer realize that the windows in our homes pose an equal threat.

“If you step out into your backyard and look at your windows, what you're going to see is a reflection of what's behind you. And what birds see is 'great, it's a fly through, I'll just keep going,' and they pick up speed and hit the window," said Kristin Brown, owner of the Wild Bird Store.

"Most birds do not survive it, even though they will fly away. Most birds are flying away and succumbing to what we would call a concussion. It's a big problem in houses."

The other main human-related threat is from pets.

Cats in particular are estimated to kill up to 200 million birds every year in Canada alone according to a study done by the federal government in 2013.

Bird strikes, in comparison, kill an average of 25 million birds per year.

Calgary’s Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw does apply to cats, as well as dogs, and requires owners to license their pets and ensure they stay on their own property.

Fines range from $25 to $1,500.

Johnson says unleashed dogs damaging nesting sites, often by roaming off leash through tall grass, also poses a problem for birds, though it is not as great an issue as free roaming cats.

Habitat protection

The second category; habitat protection also includes restoration, and climate resiliency.

This includes using native plants in public planning and putting in protections for the urban forest on both public and private land to ensure birds have sufficient space to nest.

The City of Calgary has a biodiversity strategic plan, which is hoping to naturalize many public spaces around the city planting native grasses and flora in at least 20 per cent of the areas om an attempt to attract and retain birds.


The third category Nature Canada reviews is community outreach and education.

According John McFaul, president of Nature Calgary, this is an area where the city had a head start toward its new certification.

“We have lots of educational opportunities, too. We've got the (Inglewood) bird sanctuary, we've got Nature Calgary running, bird outings at Fish Creek Park," he said.

"The education component is really part of that whole process that came together, and made us a very bird friendly city.”

Individual Action

While the ‘bird-friendly’ certification from Nature Canada was awarded to the City of Calgary based on work done by city planners and lawmakers, both Johnson and McFaul stress individual effort is required to make the city truly welcoming to our avian friends.

“People can naturalize their backyard, maybe plant some more trees, let the grass grow, let it go kind of wild.” Said Mcfaul.

"You can certainly put up birdhouses. Bird feeding is certainly a good idea.”

“I think we really need to embrace the beauty of imperfection," said Johnson.

"Leave your dandelions for a little bit. Really be careful with pesticides and insecticides because you might not like creepy crawlies, to somebody else they're a snack. A pretty important snack to feed their hatchlings in the spring as well."

Johnson also suggests planting more native plants, because they support the kind of food insects, and seeds that native birds require as food.

Perhaps the biggest thing people can do according to McFaul is start taking an interest in the bird life around them which he hopes sparks an interest to act as an advocate for our winged neighbours.

“Citizens should get involved get to know the birds," said McFaul.

"We have to realize that Calgary is maybe a stop-off point where these birds are migrating through, or it may their destination. We have an election coming up in October. Let's ask those questions. Let's ask those candidates, what do you think about our birds in the city? Are we actually a bird friendly city? Is there more that we can do?”

Canada's wild bird population is estimated to have declined by more than 12 per cent in the last 45 years. Nature Canada estimates that there are three billion fewer birds in North America today than 50 years ago.