Avian Conservation and Ecology (Dec 2013)

A Synthesis of Human-related Avian Mortality in Canada

  • Anna M. Calvert,
  • Christine A. Bishop,
  • Richard D. Elliot,
  • Elizabeth A. Krebs,
  • Tyler M. Kydd,
  • Craig S. Machtans,
  • Gregory J. Robertson

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 8, no. 2
p. 11


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Many human activities in Canada kill wild birds, yet the relative magnitude of mortality from different sources and the consequent effects on bird populations have not been systematically evaluated. We synthesize recent estimates of avian mortality in Canada from a range of industrial and other human activities, to provide context for the estimates from individual sources presented in this special feature. We assessed the geographic, seasonal, and taxonomic variation in the magnitude of national-scale mortality and in population-level effects on species or groups across Canada, by combining these estimates into a stochastic model of stage-specific mortality. The range of estimates of avian mortality from each source covers several orders of magnitude, and, numerically, landbirds were the most affected group. In total, we estimate that approximately 269 million birds and 2 million nests are destroyed annually in Canada, the equivalent of over 186 million breeding individuals. Combined, cat predation and collisions with windows, vehicles, and transmission lines caused > 95% of all mortality; the highest industrial causes of mortality were the electrical power and agriculture sectors. Other mortality sources such as fisheries bycatch can have important local or species-specific impacts, but are relatively small at a national scale. Mortality rates differed across species and families within major bird groups, highlighting that mortality is not simply proportional to abundance. We also found that mortality is not evenly spread across the country; the largest mortality sources are coincident with human population distribution, while industrial sources are concentrated in southern Ontario, Alberta, and southwestern British Columbia. Many species are therefore likely to be vulnerable to cumulative effects of multiple human-related impacts. This assessment also confirms the high uncertainty in estimating human-related avian mortality in terms of species involved, potential for population-level effects, and the cumulative effects of mortality across the landscape. Effort is still required to improve these estimates, and to guide conservation efforts to minimize direct mortality caused by human activities on Canada's wild bird populations. As avian mortality represents only a portion of the overall impact to avifauna, indirect effects such as habitat fragmentation and alteration, site avoidance, disturbance, and related issues must also be carefully considered.