Guess how many different wild species live in Canada?
Counting all so-far known mammals, birds, fishes, butterflies and dragonflies, bees, worms, higher plants, mosses and mushrooms together there are over 70,000 wild species in this country [wildspecies.ca; accessed Nov. 2011].
And – just like humans – they rely on food supply, shelter and safe breeding sites – to name just a few. But due to human actions such as city expansion or intensive agriculture, life-sustaining conditions for those species decline more and more.
To assess the impact of human activities, and to make sure they do not drive species to extinction the first step is to keep track on the species: Size and distribution of their population, the threats each one faces, and any trends in these factors. This data, summarized in the Wild Species Report, show which species are secure for now, which to keep an eye on and which ones perhaps needed to be protected. There is a status rank for every province, territory and ocean region as well as an overall ranking for Canada.
The data and report from the Wild Species series contribute to the Species at Risk Act (SARA) of Canada. SARA is a key federal government commitment to work together with landowners and provincial governments to prevent the extirpation of wildlife species and to secure the necessary actions for their recovery.
The wild species which are listed as Species at Risk are ranked in five categories:
Extinct: The species not longer exists.
Extirpated: The species no longer exists in Canada’s wilderness
but exists elsewhere.
Endangered: The species is facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
Threatened: The species will likely become endangered if nothing is done
to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation.
Special Concern: The species may become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.
Species at Risk in Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve
In Canada are currently over 300 wild plant and animal species protected under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) [http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca; accessed November 2011]. Four of them call the area within the Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve their home:
Detecting a Piping Plover might be difficult, as its feathers seem to melt into the background of sandy beaches. The dark banded plumage across the bird’s forehead and around the neck resembles the clutter of the shoreline, pocked with pebbles, coarse bits of earth and reedy stripes of vegetation. The legs are orange and the bill is orange with a black tip (in winter the bill becomes black). The Piping Plover measures 15-19 cm (6-7 inches) in length. The bird nests on gravel shores of shallow, saline lakes and on sandy shores of larger prairie lakes. Seeps also provide important foraging habitat on the Prairies. Redberry Lake is recognized as one of the best sites in Saskatchewan to see the Piping Plover, along with Chaplin Lake/Marsh, Douglas Provincial Park, the Gardiner Dam area on Lake Diefenbaker, and the Quill Lakes.
What are the threats?
The human use of beaches and the consequent disturbance are the most important factors. Dogs and cats prey on the eggs and young. Gulls and raccoons are attracted to the nesting sites by the garbage humans leave behind. Cattle and horses trample and cars and ATVs drive over nests. Furthermore, chicks can even be trapped in hoof prints and deeper wheel ruts.
Whooping Crane (Grus americana)
This bird is the tallest bird in North America, measuring 1.5 meters (5 feet) in height. The Whooping Crane has a red and black head. Its body plumage is snow white with black-tipped wings, but the black tips can only be seen when the wings are outstretched.
The Whooping Crane nests in shallow wetlands in the northeast corner of Wood Buffalo National Park (on the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories). When it migrates from there to winter in the southern part of North America it comes across our Redberry Lake area, where it roosts and feeds in our wetlands and croplands.
What are the threats?
In their breeding areas, but especially in the regions where they stop during their migration and in their wintering grounds, Whooping Cranes are facing a loss of habitat quality and food resources.
In Saskatchewan and Alberta the birds are also protected by the Wildlife Acts and in Manitoba by the Endangered Species Act. Under these Acts it is prohibited to kill, harm, or collect adults, young, and eggs.
This songbird measures about 23 cm (9 inches) in length and is slightly smaller than a robin. The distinctive black facial mask covers its eyes entirely. With their contrasting black, white and grey plumage, adults are particularly conspicuous in flight. The Loggerhead Shrike is often referred to as the “Butcher Bird”. It uses thorns of Hawthorns and other shrubs or barbed wire to impale its prey of frogs, grasshoppers, beetles and mice.
What are the threats?
Finding habitat for breeding, migration and wintering is more and more challenging for the Loggerhead Shrike. The transformation of native grasslands to agricultural land is the main factor for habitat loss. The use of pesticides to combat insects such as grasshoppers is one of the major aspects that have contributed to the decline of the Loggerhead Shrike population. Collisions with automobiles are also believed to be a cause of mortality of the birds, which often build their nests and hunt near roadways.
Sprague's Pipit (Anthus spragueii)
This small 16-17 cm (6-7 inches) ground-nesting songbird looks sparrow-like with rather nondescript brown plumage, and a thin bill. The Sprague’s Pipit is secretive and more often heard than seen: The males sing a twittering song while circling in the air before they drop rapidly to the ground and hide in the grass. The Sprague’s Pipit prefers native grassland and is rarely found on cultivated land or introduced forage.
What are the threats?
Loss of habitat is the main reason for the declining population of the Sprague’s Pipit. Extensive livestock activity, hay harvesting, cultivation of native grasslands, and an interrupted prairies-fire cycle all contribute to this loss of habitat. The use of pesticides to control grasshoppers also propably has an additional impact since the Sprague’s Pipit feeds on those insects. Drought is supposed to be the most significant “natural” limiting factor which limits nesting habitat and food supply.
Help our Species at Risk and other animals and plants…
…at home & in your backyard:
Provide bird feeders, especially when there are few mature trees. Place the feeder close to natural shelter (trees and shrubs)
Grow native plants in your garden (buy from producers that do not harvest them directly from the wild)
Leave animals some space to hide and breed: Plant trees and shrubs, let a stretch of grass grow instead of mowing it
Do not use pesticides around the home.
…out in the bush:
Stay on the trails
Take your dog on a leash
Avoid making too much noise
Take all your food and litter back home
Do not kill, harm, or collect adult and young animals as well as eggs and do not pick any plants.
…in your every day life:
Walk, bike, take public transportation or carpool instead of using your own car
Buy an economical car
Consume less and buy from local producers
Reuse and recycle
Question residential area plans that could destroy the habitats of wild species.
- Environment Canada. March 2009.Species at Risk. A guide to Canada’s Species at Risk in the Prairie Provinces. Edmonton: Environment Canada.
- www.sararegistry.gc.ca, accessed November 2011.
- www.cosewic.gc.ca, accessed November 2011.
- www.naturesask.ca, accessed November 2011.
- www.wildspecies.ca, accessed November 2011.