North America Trading Songbirds for Junk Mail

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, May 6, 2003 (ENS) - One in every three of North America's songbirds is born in Canada's northern boreal forest, according to new research released to mark International Migratory Bird Day on May 10.

The boreal forest is the breeding grounds of up to five billion land birds each year according to the new study by Dr. Peter Blancher of Bird Studies Canada. More than half of the world populations of nearly 40 bird species also nest in the Canadian boreal forest, the researchers found.

The study was the result of a joint project of the Canadian Boreal Initiative based in Ottawa and the new U.S. based Boreal Songbird Initiative. With other conservation organizations they formed the Boreal Songbird Initiative to improve scientific understanding, conservation and management of Canada's extensive northern boreal forest ecosystem.


Magnolia warbler in Canada's boreal forest (Photo by C. Machtans courtesy Environment Canada)
"Although an estimated 60 million Americans enjoy watching birds, very few realize that a distant northern forest in Canada is a key to the survival of so many songbirds that brighten our lives," stated Marilyn Heiman, director of the Boreal Songbird Initiative.

Stretching across Canada's northern latitudes, the boreal forest covers more than one billion acres. It is the largest intact forest left on Earth - 50 percent larger than the remaining intact Amazon rain forest. But Canada's boreal faces new and increasing threats from industrial development, the Boreal Songbird Initiative warns.

"This study gives us an important new understanding of the immense global significance of Canada's boreal forest ecosystem to birds," said Cathy Wilkinson, director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative.

But Canada's vast boreal ecosystem is changing quickly. "More than 30 percent has already been designated for logging, energy and other development, much of it within the last decade," Wilkinson said. "As a result, millions of acres of the boreal are being clearcut each year."

"Consumer choices made in this country are driving much of the demand for the resources of the Boreal," said Heiman.

The United States purchased US$20 billion worth of Canadian forest products in 2001, most of it cut from the boreal forest, the groups say.

"Much of the paper Americans receive every day as junk mail, advertising inserts and catalogues comes from Canada's Boreal forest. Boreal trees provide more than a third of all newsprint used in the United States, and we are the largest user of Canada's oil and gas," Heiman noted.


Waste paper on a recycling truck (Photo courtesy Loop Paper Recycling)
Report author Dr. Blancher, an expert on North American land bird conservation, found that several boreal-breeding bird populations are in sharp decline, including Connecticut warblers, rusty blackbirds and Canada warblers. The reasons for the decline are not yet fully understood.

"We assumed that Canada's boreal ecosystem was important to North America's birds, but we didn't know until now that it was the breeding ground for so many," said Dr. Blancher.

Almost 200 landbird species breed in the boreal forest and wetlands every summer. By fall, as many as five billion of North America's birds - warblers, sparrows, swifts, finches, hawks and falcons - migrate south from the region for the winter. Over 40 percent of North American waterfowl also use the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska, and for 35 species of waterbirds, the boreal region forms more than half of their breeding grounds.

"This report is an important step in understanding the diversity and abundance of bird life that still exists in Canada's boreal region and why we need to conserve the Boreal," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, vice president for conservation programs for the National Wildlife Federation.

There is still time to make informed land use decisions, say the groups who want consumers to realize what a direct impact on the boreal forest they make with their purchasing choices.

"Americans have a special responsibility to help Canadians conserve the boreal by making more informed consumer choices and by gaining a better understanding of the ecological importance of the boreal," said Heiman. "The future of the birds visiting our backyard bird feeders may depend on it."