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Canadian Projects

Canadian Blog

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA's Canadian Representative


Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)

A Feathered Pariah Champion Comes to Town

Long overdue book launched in Toronto

Published 05/14/14

On Saturday, May 10, contrary to weather forecasts, the sun shone down on what we locals call the Leslie Street Spit: more correctly known as Tommy Thompson Park (TTP), or the East Toronto Headland. It is home to the largest nesting colony of double-crested cormorants in eastern North America, along with other waterbird species. That day, it was the venue of both a birding festival and the launch of an important new book, The Double-Crested Cormorant: Plight of a Feathered Pariah by Linda R. Wires, just published by Yale University Press in 2014. And, full disclosure: I illustrated it voluntarily, and I receive no royalties.

It was all hosted by Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), which manages TTP. The park is a man-made landfill that extends some five kilometers into the waters of Lake Ontario, from the foot of Leslie Street, in the city’s east end. Started some fifty years ago, and still being added to during the week, one truckload of landfill at a time, TTP is freely open to the public each weekend and holiday. The single road that extends most of its length is then traffic-free, and enjoyed by more than 250,000 joggers, cyclists, strollers, photographers, and birders each year. It has grown into a beloved “urban wilderness” complete with trees, shrubs, fields, marshes, and mudflats, with huge numbers of nesting ring-billed gulls, cormorants, black-crowned night-herons, common terns, and great egrets, along with many shorebirds, waterfowl, songbirds, coyotes, deer, beaver, mink, raccoons, opossums, and other wildlife. The spit, as it’s affectionately known, has all been created and populated within my lifetime.

Wires chose that site for her book launch because it represents the best cormorant management policy on the continent, thanks in good part to the work of six animal protection groups (of which we are the only one that is U.S.-based). Sadly, there has been no similar cormorant protection endeavour in the U.S. That’s sad because, although Canada hosts some 60-70% of the breeding population of the species, government culling has killed only about 1/10 of the 500,000 or more cormorants directly or indirectly killed by U.S. government agencies.

And at TTP, carefully managed by the TRCA, none have been killed. In fact, here in Ontario, Born Free and other groups, collectively calling ourselves Cormorant Defenders International, have helped stop or prevent all government culls in Ontario (except for one done by Parks Canada, on Middle Island, Lake Erie; see this blog post, this blog post, and this blog post for more).

Instead of fighting us and catering to the viscerally irrational hatred so many people have toward cormorants, TRCA gathered up stakeholders into an advisory group “to determine an effective, humane and acceptable management approach to cormorants at TTP.” Appreciation for cormorants and understanding their role in nature is encouraged. But, atavistic and punitive attitudes still prevail, and its grand name notwithstanding, Cormorant Defenders International is not yet very international.

I am a great believer in the idea of reason, compassion, and knowledge ultimately prevailing, and Linda Wires’ wonderful new book will be an important contribution to all of that, on both sides of the border. I will more formally review it in a later blog, but meanwhile, I warmly recommend The Double-Crested Cormorant: Plight of a Feathered Pariah by Linda R. Wires.

(Photo credit: Ainslie Willock)

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