Bird festival debuts in Vancouver as international congress takes flight

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Bird festival debuts in Vancouver as international congress takes flight

How about starting your week in a bird costume and parading around on stilts?

That's just what some Vancouver residents are planning to do to kick off a festival celebrating local birds — and to mark an international bird conference being held in the city.

Dr. Farah Shroff is part of a group which has for months been creating costumes and practising walking on stilts to mimic birds, in preparation for the first Vancouver International Bird Festival.

"I've completely fallen in love with birds to the point where I really do want to be one now, like, I'm having more flying dreams," she said. "It' so much fun."

On Monday the group will parade from Harbour Green Park in Coal Harbour to the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Hub for bird enthusiasts

The parade kicks off a week of activities centred around the world of birds, and marks the 27th International Ornithological Congress, which runs until Aug. 26 at the convention centre.

Held every four years, the congress hosts ornithologists from all over the world who share research and conservation efforts. Around 2,000 ornithologists are expected in Vancouver for the event, which has been held in Canada only once previously.

Lucia Liu Seveirnghaus, president of the International Ornithologists' Union, says Vancouver is a perfect place to host the congress.

"Canada has many new accomplishments to impress global ornithologists since hosting the congress in Ottawa in 1986," wrote Seveirnghaus in her welcome message to delegates.

The city is also a hub for bird enthusiasts and on a major migratory route for different species.

While the congress is held every four years, volunteer John Keller says the plan is to make the bird festival an annual event.

"Well, the birding community is a very active one and it's an attempt to draw attention to just how much birds bring to our communities," he said.

Key part of ecosystem

Birds are a key part of ecosystems as they provide pest control and pollination, and spread seeds.

Vancouver has a bird strategy that aims to make the city a world leader in supporting native birds year-round by 2020.

The city says that due to human settlement, industry and forestry, there has been a 35 per cent decline in bird species in the Pacific Coast region since 1970.

Birder Jodie Simmons says she's excited about the festival and congress. She hopes it will encourage others to think more about the importance of birds.

"They're just fascinating," she said. "Those little things, you can learn so much about them. It's an interesting hobby, and it's not easy."

With files from Jon Hernandez