Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., all aflutter as it's recognized as 'Bird Friendly City'

Among the town's highlights is the McGill Bird Observatory, which has a bountiful offering of birdhouses and feeders, creating a popular spot for birds and bird watchers.  (CBC - image credit)
Among the town's highlights is the McGill Bird Observatory, which has a bountiful offering of birdhouses and feeders, creating a popular spot for birds and bird watchers. (CBC - image credit)

Barbara Frei is a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada and sees birds every day as part of her work.

But there's somewhere else she sees them as well. In her hometown of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue in Montreal's West Island.

"It's a privilege to be able to walk out my front door and come within my own town and see birds," she said. "I see their conservation and I see them just living their lives."

On Thursday, during the UN biodiversity summit known as COP15, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue was one of 14 cities in Canada named a "Bird Friendly City." This certification was developed by Nature Canada to encourage municipalities to become safer places for birds.

Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue is the only place in Quebec to be named.

"The education that gets done about birds, the wildlife habitat that is protected by the city for birds," said Coun. Ryan Young, naming off a list of bird initiatives in the town.

"We are like the bird capital of the province of Quebec."

Among those initiatives is the dark skies bylaw that was passed nearly a decade ago. The town reduces its light pollution for energy conservation, but it's a move that also allows birds to migrate at night with less disruption.

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

The town is one of the last places on the Montreal island where a comparatively large number of species of birds continue to breed in places like the Morgan Arboretum and the L'Anse-à-l'Orme Nature Park, the town says on its website.

"The establishment of the Macdonald campus of McGill University in the early 1900s led to many hectares of land being purchased for research and education," it says.

The McGill Bird Observatory has a bountiful offering of birdhouses and feeders, creating a popular spot for birds and birdwatchers alike.

And that's just the beginning. Since 2012, in partnership with Montreal, some 65 more hectares has been set aside for conservation.

"More than 120 species of birds have been found to nest within the boundaries of the municipality and some of the recently protected lots of land provide important nesting habitat for species at risk including the wood thrush, bobolink, and barn swallow," the town says.

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

The town has also put up 100 different bird houses across the town, and those houses are monitored by staff.

"I'm overjoyed with the recognition that Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue has received for being bird-friendly and I'm really looking forward to the next steps, which would be making it even bird-friendly," Young said.

The town is going to reach out to its citizens to figure out what bird will become its emblematic bird, as it looks to keep on improving its status as a bird city.

That high level of conservation has created a space for scientists like Frei to study birds up close, while also enjoying their presence while she is out and about in town.

"I always think of biodiversity as a Jenga puzzle," she observed.

"It's a block and if you start taking out those blocks, you never know when that tower is going to fall."

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

She said we never know when a species will be lost. An increasing number of animals, birds included, are at risk in Canada  — and around the world — due to climate change.

Birds are the ambassadors of nature, Frei said. "They connect people with nature."

Chloe Cull is among those who see the importance of birds and she, as a master's student in biology at Concordia University, is trying to figure out ways to improve bird biodiversity in urban environments.

"It's sometimes difficult for nature when there's so much concrete and there's structures all around," Cull said. "So it's really important to have these green spaces within our city not only for birds but for people."

Steven Guilbeault, Canada's minister of environment and climate change, announced the 14 bird friendly cities during the COP15.

"Getting certified as a Bird Friendly City is something these municipalities can really crow about," he said in a statement.

"It's a point of pride and a self-imposed challenge to continue doing better in protecting the fate of bird populations that enrich our urban environments while helping to balance our ecosystems."