|Canada's Tar Sands
Birds Most at Risk
Of the 22 to 170 million birds that breed in the area that is and could be impacted by the tar sands, a large number of species are in trouble. Here are two very different examples, one big and one small.
The only natural population of Whooping Crane, a critically endangered species currently numbering around 400, is in Wood Buffalo National Park, directly northwest of the tar sands. The strip mines, forest fragments and most ominously the 50 to 100 square kilometres of toxic tailing lakes which appear particularly inviting from the air, lie directly on their migration route. What are the chances over the next fifty years that a group of migrating Whooping Cranes drops out of the sky to take refuge from a storm in the toxic death traps below?
Olive-sided Flycatcher was added to the official list of Canadian Species at Risk in 2007. The population of this exclusively insect eating bird has declined almost 80 percent in the last 40 years in North America. Most of its world population occurs in the Canadian boreal forest. Like many other boreal dependent species, it is being assaulted on many fronts, both on its breeding grounds, non-breeding grounds in the Amazon basin and Andean slopes of South America and during its extremely long migration in between.
The Olive-sided Flycatcher lives exclusively off flying insects, catching them in flight. The boreal forest in north eastern Alberta is an important area for this species. Loss of thousands of square kilometres of habitat will remove a chunk of its population. Climate change adds an additional stress. Climate change, particularly global warming, alters hatching dates for the insects, putting this important food source out of synch with the timing of bird migration. Climate change also leads to desiccating droughts and contributes to subtle changes in habitat that have not-so-subtle impacts. The tar sands are the biggest single contributor by far to greenhouse gases in Canada.