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A Feather in the Cap of Conservationists

For the week of Monday, August 15, 2016

On August 16, 1916, the United States and the United Kingdom (on behalf of Canada) signed the Migratory Birds Convention (MBC). In Canada, it became law the following year as the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA). The MBC was a Canadian-American conservation effort to prevent the widespread extinction of migratory birds by restricting hunting and trade.

Over 280 species of birds have been spotted at Last Mountain Lake Bird Sanctuary
Lowell Strauss © Environment and Climate Change Canada

Over-hunting had endangered bird populations across North America. Their annual nesting territories were threatened by spreading farmland and industrialization. The plight of birds was brought into public consciousness in 1914 when the last Passenger Pigeon died. The importance of nesting sites was recognized as early as 1887, when Canada established its first bird sanctuary, the Last Mountain Lake Bird Sanctuary in Saskatchewan.

The MBC protected birds that were “either harmless or beneficial to man,” it established a three-and-a-half month hunting season on game birds, and restricted the export of birds and eggs. In Canada, the Act was amended in 1994 to recognize Indigenous subsistence hunting practices. In 2005, it was amended again to protect migratory birds in Canada from dangerous materials such as oil.

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Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Ron Mackay examines a Trumpeter Swan in the 1950s
© Canadian Wildlife Service

Over the past 100 years the MBCA has resulted in many conservation success stories such as the preservation of the Trumpeter Swan and the Whooping Crane. It has also led to important research, tracking programmes, and the preservation of nesting lands; Canada now has 92 migratory bird sanctuaries. Last Mountain Lake, now a national wildlife area, is a designated national historic site. On June 29, 2016, during the North American Leaders Summit, the Prime Minister of Canada, the President of the United States, and the President of Mexico, made a commitment to protect migratory birds and their habitat, and more specifically, to develop a vision for the next 100 years of bird conservation.

To learn more about the history of conservation in Canada, read Banff National Park Celebrates 125 Years of Memorable Experiences!, Saving Gwaii Haanas, the “Islands of Beauty”, and Canada Creates World’s First National Parks Service in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada. Find out more about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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