Ottawa announces $3M in funding for citizen scientists to help check on the birds

Jason Puddifoot/Bird Canada. A Western Sandpiper forages on mudflats of Brunswick Point, adjacent to Roberts Bank Deltaport in B.C.

Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada’s National Observer

On Wednesday, Ottawa announced $3 million to support citizen science and open data collection to better track the biodiversity crisis.

The collection will allow volunteers, not just professional scientists, to contribute to the conservation of birds with populations on the decline.

Forty-four per cent of the world’s migratory species populations are plummeting, according to a United Nations report released Monday. Many songbirds, sea turtles, whales, sharks and other migratory animals move to different environments with changing seasons, while illegal hunting and fishing, pollution and climate change are contributing to habitat loss, which makes these migrations dangerous.

Ottawa’s investment will support Birds Canada, a non-governmental organization focused on conservation. Birds Canada runs the program NatureCounts, a platform that allows users to collect and access wildlife data to advance the current picture of bird populations. Over 200 million data records on all bird species are included in the platform, according to a government news release. 

The funding will allow Birds Canada to build and improve the platform to monitor migratory birds, particularly species at risk, as well as identify priority habitats and inform land use management to better reflect conservation efforts.

Through observation and reporting, the platform and other initiatives like it help us understand the “catastrophic decline” of birds in North America because “the most effective conservation action comes from a sound understanding of which birds are declining,” Patrick Nadeau, president and CEO of Birds Canada, said at a news conference Wednesday in Ottawa.

North America has lost three billion birds since 1970, or nearly one in three birds, Nadeau added.

The announcement comes two days before the Great Backyard Bird Count, a four-day event worldwide that allows communities to count and report the birds in their areas. The data collected provides scientists with a yearly snapshot of global bird populations and migratory patterns.

The work supports citizen science, an umbrella term to describe scientific data collection obtained by volunteers concerned and active in the biodiversity conversation.

Canadian citizen science programs have mobilized more than 74,000 people, who do the work equivalent to nearly 2,000 full-time professionals, Nadeau explained.

At the news conference, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told Canada’s National Observer that citizen science is something Ottawa wants to “foster and encourage,” citing its added benefit of involving the community in the work to mitigate the biodiversity crisis.

Guilbeault did not answer specifically if more funding would be awarded to citizen science programs. 

The funding announcement supports Target 21 of the Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework, which aims to ensure the best available data on biodiversity.

The framework’s flagship promise is to protect 30 per cent of the world’s lands and waters by 2030, meaning it’s essentially up to each nation to work towards those goals. Other targets included are to better understand the realities of biodiversity and to ensure Indigenous knowledge and territories are respected and protected.

Research has shown 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity is on lands inhabited by Indigenous Peoples.

— With files from Christina Larson, The Canadian Press

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative