Boreal birds


Narrator: As part of Canada’s efforts to continually improve forest management practices, Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service is studying the birds of the boreal forest.

Each year, an estimated one and a half billion birds make Canada’s boreal forest their home.

The boreal’s immense size, and one and a half million lakes, provides a diverse range of breeding grounds and habitats, attracting over 300 species of birds.

Studying the birds of the boreal forest provides invaluable information for scientists on the state of the forest’s ecosystems.

Steve Holmes: Birds are excellent indicators of biodiversity in the boreal forest and for a number of reasons. They’re very very common, they're ubiquitous, you find them everywhere, but the best thing about them is they’re very easy to measure because they sing and so you can go out during the breading season and you can hear birds singing, and can count their numbers and you can measure whole communities, not just populations of individual species. So you have got a lot of information, and you can use all that information to indicate whether the forest is staying the same, changing, remaining healthy or something bad is happening to it.

Narrator: While bird populations are an important scientific tool for monitoring forest health, populations can fluctuate due to natural variations in weather conditions and disturbance cycles, such as fire and insect outbreaks.

Extreme weather events, such as storms or hurricanes, can blow birds off course during migration. These birds can end up landing in areas with inhospitable habitats or be blown far out over the ocean.

On the other hand, outbreaks of insects, such as the Spruce Budworm, can provide a large increase in the available food for a number of bird species. As a result, bird populations can increase dramatically.

Human activities in the forest, such as harvesting, can also affect local bird populations. These interactions can be very complex, and may result in changes to the local diversity, abundance and mix of bird species. These changes can be positive, neutral or negative, and vary for each bird species depending on the kinds of habitat that it prefers.

Steve Holmes: Changes in habitat are inevitable in a forest harvesting operation and in general what happens is you’re changing an older forest into a younger newer forest and so that’s going to be an advantage to early successional birds, birds that like young forest and it’s going to be bad for birds that like mature forest.

But any of those changes are temporary because those forests will mature over time and eventually you’ll have a mature forest on that site.

Narrator: The long term habitat requirement of species is a key consideration of Canada’s sustainable forest management.

While each province and territory uses a slightly different process for forest management, they all include a combination of legislation, regulations and guidelines specifically designed to protect biodiversity at all levels across the landscape.

Steve Holmes: There’s management planning in all of the provinces now that protect birds and bird habitat.

For example, during forest management planning, cavity trees are an important consideration because the number of birds and some mammals make use of cavity trees for their nests and so the regulations or the guidelines make sure that those cavity trees are preserved across the landscape.

Narrator: Scientists with Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service track changes in bird populations and measure how bird communities are affected by natural and human-caused disturbances.

By studying the kinds of habitat favoured by various species of birds, scientists can help forest managers maintain the right types of habitat across the landscape.

Understanding boreal birds and their habitat needs help governments and the forest industry continually improve Canada’s sustainable forest management practices.