The story of Coastal Douglas-fir forests: All about birds

There are literally hundreds of species to be found in the CDF biogeoclimatic zone, and it is up to us to ensure human activities do not put them at risk.

Over the past 40 years, bird populations have been in decline all over the world, driven largely by human-induced climate change and habitat loss. Ann Nightingale, from the Rocky Point Bird Observatory in Victoria, BC, introduces bird species common to the Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone and shares recommendations for how people can better protect them.

What are some of the common bird species you might expect to encounter within the Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone?

There are literally hundreds of species that you can find in the CDF biogeoclimatic zone. A few that you can find throughout the region include songbirds such as Chestnut-backed Chickadee, American Robin, Song Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Red-winged Blackbird, shorebirds like Western Sandpiper, Killdeer, and Dunlin, raptors including Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Western Screech Owl (not all that common anymore) and Great Horned Owl, both Rufous and Anna’s Hummingbirds, and several species of woodpeckers, such as Northern Flicker and Red-breasted Sapsucker.

Yellow rumped warbler sits on a rock in the Gulf Islands.
Yellow rumped warbler by Ann Nightingale.
Red-winged blackbird opens their wings while sitting in some reeds.
Red-winged blackbird by Ann Nightingale.

Are forested habitats on the Gulf Islands and Southern Vancouver Island significant bird habitat? 

Definitely. Any habitat that provides an abundance of food, shelter, and nest sites will be home to many species and individuals. Most species are incredibly site-loyal, meaning that once they have established their home base, even though they might migrate thousands of kilometers, they will return year after year to the exact same site. Imagine if we came home after several months away only to find our whole neighbourhood changed. That’s a common occurrence for migratory birds.

Are there many bird species endemic to, or characteristic of, this region? 

There are no truly endemic (i.e., not found anywhere else) bird species in Canada, but there are subspecies such as the Pacific Steller’s Jay. Probably the birds that best fits this description would be Sooty Grouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Varied Thrush and some of the seabirds like Brandt’s Cormorant and Pigeon Guillemot.

Chestnut-backed chickadee plucks at some fluff while sitting upside down.
Chestnut-backed chickadee by Ann Nightingale.

Is population decline a significant worry in this region? If so, are there any species of particular concern? What are some of the major drivers of population decline? 

Bird population decline is a global issue right now. In the past 40 years, bird populations in North America have declined almost 40%, with some “common” species falling considerably more than that. Climate change is probably the biggest factor, as it contributes to almost everything else, including habitat loss, the decline in insect populations (the building block of most bird populations), and mismatched timing of migration to the peak of food availability.

A killdeer walks through some mud and water with some grass and water in the background.
Once abundant across North America, consistent declines of Killdeer populations have been observed since 1996 according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Photo by Ann Nightingale.

What are your recommendations for conserving bird numbers in this region? Is there anything individuals can do to help stabilize populations in decline? 

We all have a part in reducing climate change, protecting habitats, and demanding legislation that supports biodiversity, but on an individual basis, there are a number of things we can do as well. We can work towards making our homes and neighbourhoods as bird-friendly as possible. This includes managing the activities of our pets so that they don’t chase, harass, or kill native wildlife, reducing or modifying our windows and balcony railings so that they are better seen by birds, eliminating the use of chemicals to control pests, and maintaining native plant habitats.

A bald eagle flies low through a forest area with wings spread out.
Once in precipitous decline, the Bald eagle population in North America has bounced back in recent decades due to political actions to ban DDT use. This is an oft cited success story demonstrating what people can do to support maintenance of biodiversity. Photo by Ann Nightingale.

Are there any policies you’d like to see improved that might help to better protect bird populations in the CDF or in BC in general? 

The reality is that there are already several laws, regulations, and policies that appear to be protecting birds. They look good on paper, but there is so little enforcement, or the penalties are so low, they really don’t offer much protection at all. I think we need to have a multi-pronged approach. If we could get people to want to protect birds, we would have a much better chance of seeing it actually happen.

“If we could get people to want to protect birds, we would have a much better chance of seeing it actually happen.”

A lot of the damage being done is not intentional. For instance, many gardeners don’t realize that “insect-resistant” strains of plants they buy from garden centres often contain systemic poisons that not only reduce the number of caterpillars available to feed baby birds, but can contaminate the caterpillars that remain with toxins that will harm the very birds gardeners may be trying to attract to their yards. It is important to bring up these issues at garden centres. Let businesses know that you, as a consumer, are looking for more biodiversity-friendly products to use in your garden. This applies to plant species, too. Asking for native plants is a good motivator for garden centres to keep them in stock. Another example of a simple action is replacing glass deck/balcony railings with an alternative. Glass gives people a wonderful view of nature, but  it can be deadly to birds. 

Education, environmentally-friendly laws, and enforcement. Three Es to help the birds!

About Ann Nightingale

Ann Nightingale is a volunteer and member of the board of directors of Rocky Point Bird Observatory. Ann has lived in the Victoria area her whole life and currently resides in a patch of Coastal Douglas-fir habitat in Central Saanich. She is a frequent speaker on all things birdy for community groups and the media.

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