Celebrating 100 years of bird conservation

100 years of history

Photo of plume hat
Photo: © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

100 years of bird conservation history

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 were shot to be made into pies. 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 exceeded what their populations could sustain. 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 aimed to regulate the hunting of birds and ensure the “preservation [of such birds] as are useful to man or are harmless”.

Each season now, Canada hosts some 450 species of native bird, the majority protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

Centennial of the Migratory Birds Convention

Video of Migratory Birds Convention Centennial
Video on the centennial of the Migratory Birds Convention

2016 marks the centennial of the Convention between Canada and the United States for the protection of migratory birds. The Migratory Birds Convention laid a foundation for the conservation of birds that migrate across international borders. Legislation enacted in 1917 implemented the Convention in Canada by protecting migrating birds for their nutritional, social, cultural, spiritual, ecological, economic, and aesthetic values.

This international agreement and the others that followed connects federal, provincial, non-governmental, private, indigenous, community and international partners, who share a long, successful history of conserving, protecting, and managing migratory bird populations and their habitats.

Celebrating the centennial of the Convention allows us to bring together those who have contributed to its success, and to galvanize efforts to protect migratory birds for present and future generations.

Migratory birds

  • connect people with nature and add beauty, sound and colour to our world. They provide countless opportunities for enjoyment by birders, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts and have cultural and spiritual importance.
  • contribute environmental benefits, including pollination, insect and rodent control, and seed dispersal.
  • are good indicators of environmental health because they are so visible and relatively easy to study. Studying birds can give us a picture of what is going on in the world.

Art exhibit New!

Art exhibit "In fine feather"

Image of painting

Melissa Brunet “2 Homes”
Acrylic and oil on canvas

Drawing inspiration from birds, 14 students from the Department of Fine Arts at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick have created art works on the theme of migratory bird conservation. Through their youthful eyes, we contemplate the successes and challenges of the past and glimpse a way forward for the next century of conservation. Reproductions of their works will be displayed on outdoor panels on Laurier Street in Gatineau, near the Canadian Museum of History and the Maison du Citoyen, until the end of 2017. A collaboration between Environment and Climate Change Canada and Canadian Heritage, this exhibit is part of “The Art in the Capital” program, who aims to raise the profile of Canadian public art in the urban spaces of Canada’s Capital Region.

Listen to the CBC interviews with the artists

 Interview with artists and biologist from the Canadian Wildlife Servcie

Artists Isabel Francolini, Savannah Harris, Adrian Kiva and Kevin Melanson, and biologist Garry Donaldson of the Canadian Wildlife Service

 Interview with artists and Head of Department of Fine Arts

Artist Adrian Kiva and Thaddeus Holownia, Head of the Department of Fine Arts at Mount Allison University

Discover the birds described in the works of art

Corryn Bamber – “To and From”

Discover the Trumpeter Swan


Melissa Brunet – “2 Homes”

Discover the Ruby-throated Hummingbird


Sara Camus – “Hairy Woodpecker”

Discover its cousin, the Downy Woodpecker


Hilary Drake – “Lapland Longspur, Bicknell’s Thrush, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Orchard Oriole, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Blackpole Warbler, Purple Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Baltimore Oriole, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Smith’s Longspur, Golden-crowned Sparrow”

Discover the Bicknell's Thrush


Isabel Francolini – “Red Knot, Common Nighthawk, Canada Warbler”

Discover the Red Knot


Evan Furness – “Last call from marshlands”

Discover the Passenger Pigeon


Sylvan Hamburger – “Border Crossing”

Discover the Harlequin Duck


Savannah Harris – “Flight”

Listen to the soundtrack from the artwork ‘Savannah Harris – Flight

Discover the Red-winged Blackbird


Emma Hoch – “At Risk”

Discover the Common Nighthawk


Adrian Kiva – Untitled


Lucy Koshan – “Untitled (Migratory path of the Semipalmated sandpiper)”

Discover the Semipalmated Sandpiper


Nelligan Letourneau – “Cedar Waxwing Duo; Pair of Yellow Warblers; Barn Swallow Buds”

Discover the Barn Swallow


Brenna MacMillan – “Patterns”

Discover the Canada Warbler


Kevin Melanson - Untitled

Discover the Mallard

See the original works of art

Like migratory birds, the original works of art move from one place to another. You can see them at the following locations:

Take birds under your wing!

This year, I pledge to “take birds under my wing”!

Pledge form Thumbnail

Download Pledge Form
[PDF; 283KB] [HTML]

A hundred years ago, Canada and the United States signed a treaty to protect birds: the Migratory Birds Convention. A century later, it’s your turn to sign your “personal treaty” for the protection of birds where you are. Download your pledge certificate and choose one of the eight ways of “taking birds under your wing”.

Eight ways to take birds under your wing

1. Keep an eye on your pets outdoors

Research by Environment and Climate Change Canada suggest that 270 million birds die each year because of human activities. About 75% of these losses are attributable to domestic and feral cats. Take action: do not let your cat run free outside.

2. Make your windows bird safe

Windows can mislead birds: they see trees and sky reflected and try to fly through. Thousands of birds die this way each year. Make sure that all your windows are visible to birds. Put up visual markers that warn them away from the glass.

3. Avoid using pesticides and chemical fertilizers

Pesticides and chemical fertilizers can be harmful to birds, yourselves, your families and your pets. Avoid using them as much as possible.

4. Help reduce climate change

Go green: walk, bike, car pool or use public transit. Be energy-efficient: opt for compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs. Wash your clothes in cold or lukewarm water. Install programmable thermostats. Look for the Energy Star® label when buying new appliances. Cut back on waste.

5. Report the birds you spot and participate in citizen science programs

Photo of Citizen Science
Photo: © ThinkstockPhotos.ca

Make your bird observations count for science. Report the birds you spot and volunteer for citizen science programs. From entry-level beginner- and family-friendly programs to activities suited to more advanced birders – there’s something for everyone!

6. Make your yard a haven for birds

Photo of Neighbourhood
Photo: © ThinkstockPhotos.ca

Backyards and outdoor neighbourhood spaces (including around schools, community buildings, businesses and abandoned property) can provide much-needed bird and wildlife habitat, supplying needed water, food and shelter. Launching naturalizing projects at home or in the community can be a fun way to spend time outdoors connecting with nature, family, friends and neighbours.

7. Use products from sustainable farming, fishing and forestry

Help protect bird habitat. Check products for certified sustainable labelling, such as Ecocert Canada, Marine Stewardship Council, Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative or Canadian Standards Association.

8. Get involved or donate to a nature conservation group

Give your time as a volunteer to a conservation group engaged in bird protection, habitat restoration or public education, make a charitable donation to an organization of this kind or buy a Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp.

A vision for the next century

Join us in building a vision for bird conservation for the next century

Images of flag

Answering the challenge of bird conservation

“The migratory birds that link our nations are among our hemisphere’s greatest treasures.”

A century ago, North American bird populations had declined dramatically in the absence of regulations and other efforts to protect them. Recognizing the importance of migratory birds to humans and the environment, in 1916 government leaders in Canada and the United States signed a treaty committing to conserve these valuable resources that cross our borders.  This groundbreaking treaty was followed 20 years later by a similar agreement between Mexico and the United States. The result of these international agreements has been a century of cooperative conservation of our shared migratory birds and their habitats.

However, despite the treaties’ successes, birds still need our help. The State of North America’s Birds 2016 report tells us that while some groups of birds are thriving, others - especially long-distance international migrants - are in urgent need of conservation action.

Recognizing that continued international collaboration is vital to conserve migratory bird populations, our three nations have come together to start to build a vision for sustaining bird populations for the future.

Why birds and bird conservation matter

Successful bird conservation efforts recognize that the health of birds – and their habitats – is vital not just to sustaining their populations, but also to building and nourishing thriving human communities, economies and cultures, connecting people with nature, and providing valuable ecological services and benefiting many other wildlife species. Conservation unites people across broad geographies and a variety of cultures. We build our bird conservation vision on three key premises.

Conservation works
  • Where partners come together for conservation, birds and their habitats are thriving
International cooperation brings success
  • Governments and citizens are already working together to develop approaches to the conservation challenges of the future, such as ensuring resilient landscapes and adapting to changing conditions
Everyone wins with bird conservation
  • Bird conservation leads to healthy environments and ecosystems that benefit human health and human communities

Our vision for the next 100 years of bird conservation

Painting of bird

Isabel Francolini. Red Knot, Common Nighthawk, Canada Warbler. Graphite with white and black ink on Fabriano. 2016. Part of the “In Fine Feather” art expo by students from the Department of Fine Arts at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada.

Building on the input received from Canadians, the three countries are now drafting a vision statement to guide our next century of conservation which will be posted here soon.

Date modified: