The American Goldfinch is another member of the Shuswap songbird population. (Roger Beardmore photo)

Domestic, feral cats implicated in steep decline of songbirds

Committee to help save Shuswap songbirds through education

To many, the melodious call of a songbird is a joy to the soul.

Unfortunately, songbirds everywhere are in trouble, says Shuswap Naturalist Club president Ed McDonald.

“The percentage of songbirds since 1960 has declined anywhere from 50 per cent to 70 per cent,” he says. “They’re in a desperate state.”

Their numbers are declining sharply from habitat loss due to development and agriculture, from overuse of pesticides, light pollution that interferes with migration and can result in high-rise collisions, climate change that affects their food supply, and domestic cat predation.

The Stewardship Centre of B.C. reports that in Canada, there are 9.3 million domestic cats and an estimated 1.4 to 4.2 million feral cats.

Outdoor cats kill between an estimated 100 and 350 million birds per year in Canada, exceeding all other sources of direct human-caused mortality. Based on these statistics, the centre estimates that Canadian cats each kill between nine and 26 birds per year.

In the Shuswap, 150 bird species may be seen mainly during warmer seasons and at least 35 species of songbirds have been recorded on the annual Christmas Bird Count in the Salmon Arm area.

In view of the decline, a special committee has been struck with members from the naturalist club and SABNES (Salmon Arm Bay Nature Enhancement Society).

Save Shuswap Songbirds was created as a follow-up to a showing of The Messenger, a documentary film on declining songbird populations.

Committee chair Janet Aitken says many people who saw the film made generous donations to the committee that also received a $3,000 grant from the Shuswap Community Foundation.

The Save Shuswap Songbirds is in the process of creating signs and posters to help educate the public about the plight of the songbirds. Committee member Roger Beardmore is working with students at the Outdoor School to create a sign to be placed on the foreshore trail and other schools will be asked to use the declining songbird theme in art projects.

The Salmon Arm Art Gallery will feature an exhibition on the disappearing songbird population and will include at least 12 multi-media works that address some of the major issues. Called Flight, the exhibition will open on April 12.

A participating artist, Aitken is working on a piece with a cat looking out the window, following the theme “a happy cat is the indoor cat.”

“I love, love, love birds and nature and I think we can make a difference locally if we can make people more aware of the issue, she says.

Everyone one can get in the action to help save songbirds by following suggestions in the Save Shuswap Songbirds link on the Shuswap Naturalist Club website – www.shuswapnaturalists.org.


@SalmonArm
barb.brouwer@saobserver.net

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