Celebrating 100 years of bird conservation


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

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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”.


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.

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

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.

Eight ways to taking 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.


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. We invite you to join us as we envision the next century of bird conservation.

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

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.

Our vision for the next 100 years of bird conservation

While we have clearly made many strides over the last century, we know that to confront the conservation challenges of the next generations, we must work towards a shared vision to achieve hemispheric conservation for migratory birds.  Our vision for the next century of bird conservation includes the following elements:

  • People value birds and their habitats for their ecological, economic, aesthetic, and spiritual value.
  • Bird conservation aligns with human interests, and our nations work together to support the clean air and water, food, and habitat that birds and people need.
  • All sectors are committed to conservation, with governments throughout the Western Hemisphere, non-government organizations, the private sector and citizens working together to conserve birds and their habitats.
  • Bird populations and ecosystems are healthy, thanks to cooperative efforts among government, industry, and the public.

How will we achieve our vision?

We must collectively take bold action to build on these values and protect our bird communities throughout their life cycles.

We will...

  • Collaborate across sectors to demonstrate how bird conservation supports efforts to nurture healthy environments, sustain livelihoods, and improve economic conditions for landowners and communities by encouraging sustainable practices
  • Build partnerships toward shared goals of conservation and human well-being
  • Engage social scientists and economists to develop sustainable strategies that benefit birds and people
  • Consider long-term drivers of change, such as global climate change and human population growth
  • Continue to pursue scientific advances that will allow us to adopt more effective and innovative approaches to achieve both bird conservation and positive socioeconomic outcomes
  • Encourage shared objectives and strategies, guided by strong science, to inform individual actions that achieve maximum return on our conservation investments and ensure resilient landscapes that can adapt to changing conditions;
  • Engage people and communities in conservation and monitoring through citizen science and education
  • Focus efforts on our most vulnerable habitats, including oceans, tropical forests, and grasslands, while building the foundation for conservation in all habitats
  • Consolidate efforts internationally to ensure efficient and effective research, monitoring, conservation, and management actions throughout the flyways of the Western Hemisphere.

Most importantly, we will do it together. A century ago we signed the first agreement to conserve migratory birds and joined forces to protect our mutual resources. In the 21st century, we will build and expand a network of diverse partners and learn from each other’s successes, challenges, and priorities.  We will focus on habitats, flyways and corridors that migratory birds need in order to guarantee connectivity to support birds through their full migratory cycle.

Together, across the hemisphere, we will unite to implement a shared vision of bird conservation.

Our invitation to you: join the conversation

We hope that this document will start a series of conversations with partners throughout the hemisphere about the way forward for bird conservation in the next 100 years. We invite you to join us as we work toward developing and implementing a vision for the future of bird conservation.

Comments? Questions? Email us at vision@nabci.net.

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