Anyone who has a backyard feeder knows how much fun it is to watch birds, but because feeders can draw quite a flock, they might also have the impression that birds are plentiful.
Sadly, this is not quite true. Birds evolved into the amazing creatures that they are 150 million years before humans appeared on earth, but now the characteristics and abilities that have served them so well for so long are no match for the age of human ingenuity. To help them survive, we need to study them, and so for this blog, we turned to somebody who does.
Nicholas Knutson graduated from l’Université d’Ottawa in 2016 with a law degree, but then decided that ornithology was a better fit for his interests. He is currently studying nesting habitat selection in terns with a particular interest in the endangered Roseate Tern, he volunteers with the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute, he is the founder and president of La Société Environnementale Acadienne, and he will graduate from Acadia University with an MSc in Biology this spring. We asked Nick a few questions about birds.
Robin Hoodies: What is the most alarming news you've heard about birds lately?
Nick: A recent study has calculated that since 1970, North America has lost about three billion birds.
Robin Hoodies: What are the top three things we can do to help bird populations recover and thrive?
Nick: 1. Slow down the destruction of habitat. 2. Increase our data collection to better understand changes in the populations. 3. Keep our cats indoors.
Robin Hoodies: What is the worst thing we do that harms birds?
Nick: On a large scale, it’s the destruction of habitat and the world’s ecosystems. On a small scale, it’s letting our cats outside.
Robin Hoodies: What is your favourite bird and why?
Nick: Ravens because they have an intelligence on par with chimps
Robin Hoodies: What bird do you wish you could see (living or extinct)?
Nick: We used to have a large penguin here in Nova Scotia, the Great Auk... we hunted it to extinction
Robin Hoodies: What is the most encouraging thing you've heard about birds lately?
Nick: Ornithology has massive potential for citizen science and this potential is starting to be explored
Robin Hoodies: Why should we all love birds as much as you do?:
Nick: Birds are usually high in food chains and this makes them excellent vectors to study ecosystem health.
Robin Hoodies: In a nutshell, explain what work you do with birds.
Nick: In both my personal and professional life right now, I’m working on increasing citizen science projects in Nova Scotia, particularly involving birds. Citizen science requires public involvement and takes advantage of the well known principle of “power in numbers”. I think it’s the answer to many future conservation issues. At work, I’m developing the Kespukwitk Volunteer Engagement Strategy. Personally, I’m working on increasing the amount of citizen science in Southwest Nova Scotia, especially in francophone communities.
Robin Hoodies: What is the best bird photo you took?
Nick: This is one of my favourite bird photos.
One of my interests is studying animal behaviour and how complex it is... and that’s why this is my favorite picture. It’s a simple picture of a couple of Herring Gulls from Brier island last year, but what makes it cool is that they’re perched on a tree even though multiple bird books will say that gulls can’t and don’t perch in trees. Just goes to show, we’re always learning new things
And also that the answer to many questions involving animal behaviour is “it depends” - a lot like law.
To learn more about La Société Environmentale Acadienne and about Nick’s work, check out their website: https://seaclare.ca/home/