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Calgary's growing birding community concerned about migration, light pollution

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Birding is taking off as a new popular hobby in Calgary but without some societal changes, members of the community worry for its future.

Thousands of birding enthusiasts in Alberta are out in parks, chatting over binoculars or sharing photos on social media.

The community grew rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to its relatively low barrier to entry and outdoor appeal.

"Birding is something that's very straightforward and easy to get into as a hobby," Calgarian Roland Dechesne said.

"There's lots of different ways to do it and they're all valuable."

But as people flock to city green spaces, those in the community also have some concerns revolving around population and migration patterns.

"First off, light at night has a variety of problems it can create for birds," Dechesne told CTV News.

"Cities act as light domes from the birds' perspective and they will be veering off their natural migration pathways into city areas."

Dechesne has been encouraging businesses and residents to be cognizant of how they're utilizing lighting.

He says many birds can become confused by bright areas: some migrating too soon due to the confusion; others flying into well-lit areas and dying.

"And if we can see that the birds are in trouble, it means the rest of the ecology may be stressed," he said.

"But light pollution is one of the easiest problems to fix. ... Flick a switch and you can start the process."

Sara Jordan-McLachlan with Bird-Friendly Calgary says it's not just lighting.

New, cleaner and more reflective types of windows have caused more bird deaths.

Jordan-McLachlan is part of a Calgary Urban Species Response Team crew that surveys for issues around the city.

Since 2019, volunteers have systematically conducted counts downtown to find evidence of window strikes by birds and bats during spring and fall migration.

They've found hundreds of instances.

"There are a lot of knowledge gaps in terms of how birds migrate, where exactly they migrate, what's bringing them into cities and what's causing these collisions inside cities," Jordan-McLachlan said.

"So the goal is to gather as much data as we can and then use that to provide education and guidelines for buildings and retrofitting for homes and businesses."

To learn more about the surveys — or how to protect local birds from light pollution and windows — visit the organization's website.

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