Bird Watching in Canada - Sustainable Tourism & Conservation Laws

Bird watching in Canada is a highly profitable industry for local Canadian governments and tourism businesses. Some of the largest migrating flocks of geese and swans in the world can be found inhabiting the massive swaths of wetland and upland habitat that Canada has to offer. Due to the significant impact that birding has on local Canadian economies, the country itself has enacted a number of laws to protect both the habitat of these birds as well as the birds themselves. These laws will likely not have much impact on anyone who is looking for a basic birding trip, and are mostly in place to protect unscrupulous usury. Anyone who is planning on going on a birding trip in Canada should take care to observe these specific rules and regulations during their trip.

The Migratory Birds Convention Act is one of the most important Federal laws on the books in Canada to protect birds. It was drafted in 1917 to meet with the terms of an analogous US law which was drafted the same year, and that dealt with protecting migratory birds. There is specific emphasis on the protection of shore birds and migratory waterfowl, which were at the time being hunted in a completely unregulated manner. The Federal aspect of this law deals primarily with the aforementioned types of birds, as well as certain species of songbirds that eat insects and weed seeds. The protection of any other songbirds falls to the governance of provincial management. The act prohibits the collection of eggs, nests, and dead birds or feathers. It also prohibits all other forms of trapping, collecting, and hunting of bird species. None of these activities are permitted under the act except for with a special use permit. These permits are generally impossible for individual persons to attain, let alone foreign visitors. Violation of this act by birders is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 CAD and five years in prison.

The Endangered Species Act of Ontario protects 11 bird species and habitats, specifically in the province of Ontario. This act prohibits the killing, injuring, or harassment of listed endangered species, and expressly forbids the disturbance of known habitat for these species. If, for example, a tourist were to willfully disturb the habitat of a known species in order to get a picture or a better view, that tourist could be confined in prison for two years and given a $50,000 CAD fine. The important thing to keep in mind that the act specifically states that disturbances must be made willingly for there to be a conviction. Tourists that do disturb habitat but don't do so with a willful goal of harming the habitat cannot be convicted under this law. Bird species covered by this act are the American white pelican, the bald eagle, the golden eagle, the peregrine falcon, the king rail, the Eskimo curlew, the loggerhead shrike, the prothonotary warbler, Kirtland's warbler and Henslow's warbler.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act of Ontario covers a number of more common bird species in Ontario. There are two levels of protection in this act, with certain species of birds only receiving a limited amount of protection in provincial parks and game preserves. Listed species are only able to be killed or otherwise harmed if it is necessary to protect life or property. Birds covered by this act are legal to keep when found dead. In contrast with the Migratory Birds Convention Act, tourists are not breaking the law when they keep dead birds that are covered by this act. However, if you find a dead bird of prey and would like to keep it, you need to take the bird to a local Ministry of Natural Resources office to have it inspected. Not abiding by the regulations in this act can result in a $25,000 CAD fine and up to a year of prison.

Birding is an extremely popular attraction in Canada, and this popularity means that it is also very important for local economies. As such, it makes sense for a few common sense regulations to be in place to protect this resource. In the end, as long as tourists keep their distance and do not try to interfere with wildlife, they will have a wonderful time.