Migration is pretty much over now, and all birds are where they want to be if they’re sitting on eggs in a nest, or raising a clutch of nestlings, or even (as is the case here) out showing their fledglings how to navigate the big world and find food. It might give us an opportunity to have a peep into their nest boxes and niches and see them raise their babies (mostly by web-cam — something we all love!), but it doesn’t mean the dangers they face are completely over. There are still things to watch out for in the city…

Tree Felling During Nesting Season

Every spring, members of my local birding club notice incidents of tree cutting and felling in and around Montreal during the period when birds are nesting. Even trained ornithologists have difficulty locating nests, so we’re concerned that these activities may harm or even be fatal. People need to proactively protect nesting birds, and not assume “oh it’s fine no one is nesting here.” How many times have we heard of Christmas trees arriving at their destinations with very frightened and hungry owls hidden in their branches?

Perhaps making matters worse is that while tree felling is an activity a homeowner needs a permit for, the permit process might not take into account the season of the felling  – and the businesses that fell trees, like landscaping services, do not need to have a license from the Régie du Bâtiment du Québec. We can’t know whether having a license would necessarily help birds, but it’s at least one reliable avenue for educating contractors.

What can you do if you witness tree felling during nesting season in your neighbourhood? One or all of the following:

  1. Ask your municipality to verify the permits to the work. Unpermitted work = damage done, but perhaps future problems averted. (Then again, doing illegal stuff to promote one’s interests against the environment is the way it’s done for some people)
  2. Take photos. Note the place, date and time of the event, and any other pertinent information. Send an e-mail to to ec.priseaccessoire-incidentaltake.ec@canada.ca. If there’s a concern, they  might investigate.
  3. Send an e-mail to your municipality and (verify this) the contractor that’s cutting the tree, so they both have an official reminder of the law against interfering with birds of migration (Reducing risk to migratory birds). You can include this link in the e-mail, which provides the information we all need in order to ensure that all industry meets their obligations under the law. Messaging both council and the company as a concerned citizen is the polite and informative thing to do, but… just saying… some contractors care only about their schedule and payment, and not about your complaint. If they respond at all, they could be belligerent about it. So you want to keep the discourse civil. That also implies, too, that you emphasize only the facts you observed and not throw unwarranted assumptions into the notification or complaint. You want them to start ascertaining before every cut that the tree is uninhabited. This is the step that must be in place, during nesting season (and, for other species, beyond)!

While people can be focussed on their own interests and not have informed themselves beyond that, only a few are willfully ignorant or intentional about hurting other living things (including the trees themselves, sometimes). Those are the people we want to create problems for. Everyone else, we want on our side.

I’ve met a lot of tree people and they want more trees around, not fewer – and that’s not just self-interest, that’s respect for trees. They already get a lot of work by pruning and cleaning up dead wood and storm-downed trees. Some even find some of the jobs they get hired for to be a heavy-handed risk-aversion or vanity on the part of the people wanting a tree removed. So the problem could lie with the property owner. The problem could also lie with the municipality, which may be overzealous with their pruning and “visibility” standards, such that the only trees that are around are spindly and “not inconvenient.” I’ve seen city workers pruning branches of sidewalk trees that are 3 meters or more above pedestrian’s heads – just needlessly taking them out because – why, they might encroach on someone’s consciousness that there’s a canopy above them? A very large truck might bump up over the curb and get its paint scratched? Because the worker has never actually taken a walk in the woods before?

Regardless, we do need to address a few things at the municipal level, and change a few things regarding bird safety in Montreal. First, we need to change building guidelines. Safe Wings Ottawa, like FLAP in Toronto, held a petition: Petition · City of Ottawa: Prevent Thousands of Bird Fatalities: Join the Call for Bird Friendly Guidelines in Ottawa, and it worked: Ottawa’s bird friendly guidelines take flight (March 9, 2018)

The linked article does not mention felling of trees, but the fact is, if changes are made to by-laws, one can effectively cover all bases while the topic is being talked about in context, and so ask that tree pruning and felling take precautions about animal habitat (nesting and other, e.g. bats), and take mitigation measures such as later timing or a different cut plan.

Also from the article on bird-friendly guidelines: “An individual home may only be killing a handful of birds a year, but there are so many homes out there that those numbers really add up quickly.If you’ve noticed any window-crashes, contact me to come fix it as soon as possible (delay = procrastination,  meaning another bird crash), or buy your Feather Friendly or ABC bird tape at…

…Montreal’s Annual Bird Fest!

Nature Expert is Montreal’s main birding store, selling everything a birder could possibly be interested in. Alain, the store owner, sponsors many door prizes for birding group events (this is how I won my Squirrel Buster feeder). They’ve organized BirdFest every year that I’m aware of (note: I’m not aware of everything!) and because it’s been a while, I’m looking forward to going again.

I’ll be there more in a citizen capacity (likely between 1 and 3 pm), but I hope to ask questions of the general public about what they do for birds and biodiversity, and also ask specific questions of expert birders. One question is what should average people look out for, and what they should avoid doing, if they want to see (or happen to see) birds nesting in public parks? 

If you have a perspective on this question, please tell us (other readers as well as me) in the comments below!

One tip I can offer right now is that birds will, at some cost, try to defend their nests:

Birdist Rule #28: Know When Birds Think You’re Too Close to Their Nests | Audubon

I’ve posed this question to Le Nichoir. It’s the heaviest two weeks right now of Bird Crash, Bird Nap, and Cat Orphaning Season (three big reasons for rehabilitation of wild birds). They’ll be at BirdFest next weekend, too.

“If you see a bird nesting, simply leave it alone. If something really seems amiss, please call us at (450) 458-2809 before you do anything. Sometimes birds will nest in really odd places and we don’t know exactly why they chose that spot. Perhaps a high-traffic area is a good place to stay away from predators, for example. So if you’re uncertain, call, but otherwise, just let them do their parenting.”

Joanna from Le Nichoir

If you want to read all about birds that have been found in various predicaments and rehabilitated, read Le Nichoir’s newsletter. It’s a high-quality PDF with a lot of research — figurative and literal science — that went into it.

Now back to the event. The link is to the Facebook event so you can RSVP if you’re going:

Nature Expert’s Bird Fest
Saturday June 16th 2018
9:30 am to 5:00 PM
Location: Nature Expert, 5120 rue de Bellechasse, Montreal
Information: 514-351-5496 or 1-855-647-3289
Google Map to Location:

Bird houses - green wall
Bird houses on a green wall in an east end parking lot