One hundred years of bird conservation history in Canada: introduction

Imagine North America in the late 19th century. Birds were so numerous back then that they darkened the sky on migration. This heavenly bounty seemed inexhaustible. There were no limits, and billions of Passenger Pigeons and shore birds were shot to end up on our tables. Huge numbers of ducks, herons and egrets were slain to serve the fashion industry and its vogue for plumed hats. 

Then the decline began to be noticed. Certain bird species became harder to find. The Great Auk and the Labrador Duck disappeared for good, followed in 1914 by the species that had once been the most abundant bird species in North America, the Passenger Pigeon. 

Realization slowly dawned that the growing demand for birds impacted them severely. Thus, a conservation movement was born that led to the signing of one of the first international treaties on wildlife conservation, opening a new era of international collaboration in protecting wildlife and its habitat. 

Signed on August 16, 1916, the Canada-United States Migratory Birds Convention laid a foundation for the conservation of birds that migrate across international borders. The year after, on August 29, 1917, Canada adopted the Migratory Birds Convention Act, which implements the Convention on our territory by protecting migrating birds for their nutritional, social, cultural, spiritual, ecological, economic, and aesthetic values.

2017 marks the centennial of this act. Even though the threats facing birds are not the same as those in 1917, this legislation is still just as relevant. We now need to protect birds in Canada as well as in the countries they migrate to. They need protection from habitat loss, collisions with structures, predation from cats and climate change. Fortunately, our 450 or so species of native birds can count on passionate people who are devoted to protecting them: biologists, volunteers participating in surveys, birders and even ordinary citizens who appreciate the birds around them. To celebrate this centennial, one hundred of them have accepted the challenge of telling us, in one hundred words, about their love of birds. Their enthusiasm is contagious and gives us hope for a better future.

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