Kristyn Richadson, Ontario Region Stewardship Biologist
Charitable number: 11902 4313 RR0001
About this organization
The mission of Bird Studies Canada (BSC) is to advance the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of wild birds and their habitats through studies that engage the skills, enthusiasm and support of its members, volunteers, staff, and the interested public.
History of Organization
Toronto SwiftWatch is one of many bird conservation and stewardship projects run by Bird Studies Canada (BSC). The organization began as a pure research facility in 1960; the Long Point Bird Observatory. However, the name was officially changed to Bird Studies Canada in 1998 to reflect its national growth and work with local communities. Most of BSC's programs, Toronto SwiftWatch included, depend upon the active involvement of thousands of volunteer “Citizen Scientists”, guided by a small group of professional biologists. This work not only provides crucial scientific data necessary to manage and protect vulnerable birds, it also serves to involve communities in the scientific process, and to engage them in the environmental context of the places they live in.
Accolades and Accomplishments
Bird Studies Canada (BSC) is recognized nation-wide as a leading not-for-profit conservation organization. BSC, along with Nature Canada, is the Canadian partner in BirdLife International, a global alliance of conservation organizations from over 120 countries, working together for the world’s birds and people. BSC’s membership currently exceeds 7000 members, and over 40,000 recipients recieve its bi-monthly newsletter.
Toronto SwiftWatch's umbrella project, Ontario SwiftWatch, was recently featured in Canadian Geographic magazine as one of the top five conservation stories of 2011. Ontario SwiftWatch also received the 2011 Conservation Achievement Award from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Area Authority for outstanding contribution to community conservation. The successful Ontario SwiftWatch model has also been replicated in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The Chimney Swift, listed as Threatened by both the province and the federal government, is primarily an urban bird that makes its home in chimneys. Historically, Chimney Swifts nested and roosted in large hollow trees, but they adapted to using chimneys when their natural habitat was destroyed following European settlement. A century later, Chimney Swifts are again threatened by the loss of their surrogate habitat as traditional chimney structures disappear from the landscape.
Toronto SwiftWatch engages volunteers to collect information about the location and habitat requirements of Chimney Swifts throughout our city. This information is then shared with government and community partners to prevent further destruction of swift habitat. We collect sorely needed monitoring information while also engaging Toronto citizens in an environmental crisis that is literally happening in their own backyards.
Although most urbanites do not realize their environment provides the opportunity to view and appreciate wildlife, the case of the Chimney Swift shows that cities can in fact host vibrant communities of wild species. Our success will demonstrate that the urban environment is part of a wider ecological context and that preserving the wild birds in Toronto provides a richer quality of life for Torontonians.
Funding and Program Partners
- The Ontario Trillium Foundation funded BSC’s first Chimney Swift monitoring project in London in 2008.
- After initial success, Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP), funded the launch of Ontario SwiftWatch and BSC began monitoring in other cities.
- Additional funding for Chimney Swift staffing, project materials, related volunteer monitoring, stewardship and research activities has been provided by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, HSP, TD, the YMCA, Canada Summer Jobs, and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council.
- For our Toronto program we have developed working relationships with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the Bi-National Chimney Swift working group, the municipality of Toronto (planning department), the Toronto Ornithological Club and York University.
Toronto SwiftWatch has just completed it's pilot year. This year, we have recruited and trained eighteen volunteer citizen scientists, identified a number of active chimneys, and created contacts with many other environmental groups who we hope to work with. We hope to build on this early success!
Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program
“Half of the people in the city visit one of its 1,500 parks at least once a week, and almost 14% make daily visits:
Parks play a crucial role in the life of the city, accruing social, ecological, economic and health benefits to its citizens, attracting visitors, and providing a welcome refuge from the stress of urban existence”.
(Toronto's Vital Signs®, 2011)
The act of protecting urban biodiversity benefits more than just targeted species. The simple presence of wildlife within city centres provides urbanites with experiences often associated with travel to wilderness parks. Encouraging direct participation in the stewardship of this threatened native species is an enabling experience that leads participants to take pride and ownership of their communities.
“I first became inspired to work with Chimney Swifts in Houston, Texas where I visited a tourist interpretive centre built around a swift nesting site. I was impressed by the community’s stewardship efforts and the unique angle of wildlife conservation in an urban environment. I felt this would be a wonderful project for my local field naturalist group who had a great number of people working as individuals, but needed to do something as a community. With the help of Bird Studies Canada, we started Barrie SwifWatch in 2009 with 8 individuals and little knowledge of Barrie’s Chimney Swifts population. Now in 2011 we have: 25 volunteers regularly participating in the program, identified 30 active nest and/or roost sites, worked with local secondary schools to promote stewardship activities performed by students and staff, and have become involved in the Barrie Downtown Improvement Initiative. We all feel that our efforts are necessary to ensure that Chimney Swifts remain an important part of our urban environment. I am very much engaged in the SwiftWatch program, and cannot let go of it. Before I used to look at other people’s gardens. Now I am looking up at their chimneys!”
-Phyllis Tremblay, Barrie SwiftWatch Coordinator
Activities a donation will support
In order to successfully replicate the Ontario SwiftWatch program in the city of Toronto we will hire a Toronto based project biologist to undertake the following strategic activities:
• Evaluate existing SwiftWatch protocol and adapt it to the city of Toronto
• Develop strategy for volunteer recruitment and retention
• Research potential partners with similar program objectives
• Promote program and engagement strategies for volunteers through a promotional video and website enhancement
• Research potential locations for Chimney Swift nest and/or roosting habitat; add these sites to the City of Toronto’s GIS layer
• Identify historical and known Chimney Swift sites through consultation with knowledgeable groups such as the Toronto Ornithological Club (TOC) and Nest Records at the Royal Ontario Museum
• Create an official Toronto SwiftWatch guidebook.
Toronto SwiftWatch needs funds to develop a sustainable volunteer program that promotes the conservation of urban biodiversity and fosters a sense of community ownership among Toronto citizens. Key activities will include:
(1) building strategic partnerships with local organizations to promote volunteer engagement and to ensure that SwiftWatch results influence environmental planning decisions.
(2) conducting background research to adapt our current SwiftWatch program so we are volunteer-ready in Toronto by 2013.
(3) piloting SwiftWatch in a minimum of four Toronto communities and engaging 100 new local participants in 2013.