Mothering Day for Cormorants

Spring is finally here. People are starting seeds in their kitchen windows and preparing their gardens. Mother’s Day too is upon us. It’s so fitting that Mother’s Day is celebrated during spring while new life is all around us. Spring, and Mother’s Day, remind us that all new life needs to be nurtured, treasured, and protected. The caring drive that is in all of us makes us parents and guardians of the tender lives that are taking root, blossoming, hatching or being born right now.

Spring is a time to breathe a little easier, feel a little lighter as we see shoots sprouting from the ground and leaves forming on the once-barren trees. I hope that your hearts are lifted, as mine is at this lovely time.

And, I can share something else with you that will lighten your hearts even more.

This year, for the first time since 2008 Parks Canada will not be conducting their annual cull of Double-crested Cormorants on an island in Lake Erie. We have talked with you many times about this persecuted species. Like wolves and coyotes, and deer and beaver too, these native wild animals are so often targeted for killing by conservation and parks managers. You know that we will always oppose the lethal ‘management’ of wild animals, and promote peaceful co-existence with the natural world and all its inhabitants.

This year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, their annual cull of cormorants has been called off.  So, a team of Parks Canada staff will not travel to Middle Island to kill birds.

This year, cormorant parents will not be shot off of their nests as they incubate their eggs. This year, mated pairs of cormorant parents will not be at risk of being left alone to incubate their eggs and then their offspring – a task too difficult to be successful. For this spring, all the birds on the island will not fly up in fear as shots ring out. Birds will not wheel around in the air, trying to return to their nests, only to be driven off again as shooting continues. This year, birds will not be driven by exhaustion at the end of the day to simply remain in their nests, even as the shooting continues, placing themselves at great risk.

For this wonderful year, here is what will happen, and is happening right now.

A vibrant, active and glorious sea bird nursery is teeming with birds of various species: our cormorant friends, as well as Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets and American white pelicans.

These colonial waterbirds are nesting, incubating their eggs in close proximity to each other in tree-top nests. Birds are flying in from the lake, returning to relieve their mates on their nests. Places are exchanged as each mate takes turns flying out to hunt for fish. The air is peaceful as the flight of the birds is unhurried. All around, birds fly to and from the island; some travelling far in small groups, others hunting for fish nearby. Birds are bringing in new nesting materials to firm up their nests. Cormorants are floating on the water, then quickly disappearing as they dive to catch a fish. Along the shoreline Canada Geese are swimming peacefully. The soft sound of bird call is mixing with the sound of the wind.

It’s a glorious time in this nursery for birds, thanks to the suspension of this year’s cull.

How do we know what is happening this year, you might ask?

And how do we know what has happened in so many previous years?

We know because each year Animal Alliance of Canada and the Animal Protection Party have hired a boat and captain to take our observers to Middle Island to monitor the cull. When Parks Canada shooters are on the island, we are anchored nearby to keep witness. This is a very expensive undertaking, but we are committed to be there when the killing is taking place. We believe that our presence makes it more likely that the shooters take more time to ensure that wounded birds are not left behind to suffer.

Middle Island cormorant cull

Wounded birds were left behind to endure prolonged deaths some years ago when the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry conducted a cull on High Bluff Island at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. As several groups monitored that cull, we took video evidence of wounded birds left behind to die of starvation, too injured to dive for fish.

We have also been able to see with our own eyes how peaceful Middle Island, and other nearby island nurseries, are when shooters are not there. And, sadly we have observed how disturbed the birds are when their remote island is invaded so violently. We believe that it’s essential to let Parks Canada staff and management know that as long as they are killing birds, we will be there to keep watch.

Thanks to you we have been able to monitor and witness.

We have been able to hire those boats and send a staff member to monitor the shooting because of the generosity of so many of you. It’s not a happy assignment but a necessary one.  We will be heading to Middle Island once we’re able – to document what happens when there is no Parks Canada presence to disrupt the delicate ecosystem.  Thank you for giving us the resources to be able to make this important trip.

So, for this one year, let’s all breathe a little easier and think about a season of peace for parents and their young on Middle Island.

And, we ask you to take an ACTION to protect Double-crested Cormorants from a misguided law that has been proposed by Ontario’s provincial government, one that has the potential to kill thousands of cormorants in just one year.

Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford, and his government have started to implement one of the most regressive wildlife “management” programs in Canadian history.  The proposed changes are rooted in an irrational hatred for cormorants that will fuel their persecution and drive them back to the brink of extinction, or worse, in the province.

What Ontario’s government is proposing is to allow hunters to kill 50 cormorants a day! Once all the proposed legislative changes come into effect, one hunter will be able to legally kill over 14,000 cormorants in just one season. 

It wouldn’t take many people very long to wipe out most cormorants in the province. Cormorants would be reduced to just a tiny remnant of their population in a few protected areas. Double-crested Cormorants, a native migratory bird, could be driven back to near extinction in just one year.

You can learn more about this outrageous proposal by clicking here.  You can also read our rebuttals to the sorry excuses being given for what comes close to a provincially- sanctioned extermination plan, and learn more about how to help.

There’s still hope for cormorants if we act:

Canada’s federal government can, and should, protect Double-crested Cormorants under Canada’s Migratory Bird Convention Act, paralleling the U.S. listing, a reasonable and scientifically sound request.

Help Cormorants:  Oppose Ontario’s Plan!

Call or Write to the Honourable Jon Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Ask him to amend the Migratory Bird Convention Act to include Double-crested Cormorants who are migratory and should be protected under the Act.

A quick phone call or a brief email are the most effective.

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON   K1A 0A6

Telephone: 613-995-1225
Fax: 613-992-7319

Jonathan.Wilkinson@parl.gc.ca

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