WARNING: These videos contain footage of injured birds that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.
Currently Double-crested Cormorants are provincially managed and not protected under Canada’s Migratory Bird Convention Act even though the same birds are protected federally under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Our goal is to convince the federal government to list cormorants and other migratory birds under Canada’s Migratory Bird Convention Act, paralleling the U.S. listing, a reasonable and scientifically sound request.
This issue requires co-operation among provincial and federal parties. We are already communicating with party representatives to gain their co-operation.
Help Cormorants: Speak out today!
1. Call or Write to the Honourable Jon Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Ask him to amend the Migratory Bird Convention Act to include Double-crested Cormorants who are migratory and should be protected under the Act. Click here for Briefing Notes.
A quick phone call or a brief email are the most effective.
The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
2. If you live in Ontario, contact your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP). It doesn’t matter what party they represent. Express your support for the protection of Double-crested Cormorants.
Let them know that you strongly disapprove of the changes to hunting regulations being proposed by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government.
Find your Ontario MPP using your postal code at elections.on.ca
3. Spread the word. Tell everyone you know who loves birds, wildlife and nature about what’s going on. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or submit an Opinion Editorial or article. You can mention your MPP and what they are doing, or not doing, to protect cormorants and other wildlife in your letter.
4. Donate. Help us stop the cruel, and completely avoidable plan to allow the unfettered killing of cormorants.
This fight won’t be easy or cheap. We need your financial support to protect cormorants and other migratory birds who are not yet protected under the Migratory Bird Convention Act. That’s why we’re asking you to contribute what you can to support of our efforts to protect cormorants. Please join us today! Donate at animalalliance.ca/donate
For more than 14 years, Animal Alliance of Canada, the Animal Protection Party of Canada, Born Free Foundation, Zoocheck, Earthroots and other groups have been working to gain protections for cormorants. These unfortunate birds have been scapegoated for everything from water pollution to environmental destruction to the decimation of fish populations. All of these claims are false.
Double-crested cormorants are native Ontario birds that have repopulated parts of their former range and they fulfill a valuable ecological role. Not only do they benefit biodiversity, they help generate healthy fish populations and should be considered a integral component of Ontario’s natural heritage.
Premier Ford and his government have started to implement one of the most regressive wildlife “management” programs in Canadian history. The proposed changes are rooted in an irrational hatred for cormorants that will fuel their persecution and drive them back to the brink of extinction, or worse, in the province.
An Environmental Registry of Ontario posting (https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4124) announced that the Government is seeking changes to the province’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that will:
- designate double-crested cormorants as a “game” bird species,
- create a province wide annual hunting season from March 15 until December 31,
- allow anyone holding a valid Ontario Outdoors Card and small game hunting license to kill up to 50 cormorants per day for 291 days (for a total of 14,550 per season) and,
- require retrieval of the dead birds but allow the carcasses to spoil (i.e., rot). Allowing dead birds to rot was slipped in to an omnibus bill and received Royal Assent in December 2019.
The Government’s proposal would:
- cause unimaginable cruelty by allowing the wholesale, uncontrolled, impossible to monitor, slaughter of cormorants across the province,
- devastate and possibly eradicate a recovered native wildlife species,
- result in disturbance, destruction and death of numerous federally protected non-target bird species such as Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and White Pelicans,
- irreparably damage natural ecosystems,
- encourage the worst form of “slob hunting,” and
- endanger the public by allowing hunters to discharge firearms throughout the spring, summer and fall season when lakes and natural areas are populated by cottagers and tourists.
Misinformation about Depleting Fish
The Government of Ontario says it is responding to concerns about too many cormorants, depleted fish stocks and environmental damage. The government provides no evidence to support such accusations. In fact there is no substantive body of evidence proving that cormorants are depleting fish stocks or causing any ecological problems whatsoever.
The reality is that cormorants are a natural part of Ontario’s rich biodiversity and an ecologically beneficial species, being major predators of invasive fish species, like round gobies and alewives, attracting other waterbirds to their nesting sites, enriching soil and serving other important functions in the ecosystems they inhabit.
Island Forest Habitats
“Island forest habitats” are also identified by the Ontario government as a matter of concern to those advocating for the “management” of Double-crested Cormorants.
At first glance, their concern is understandable because for more than 100 years, cormorants were largely absent, their numbers driven down by persecution and pesticides. So, island and shoreline habitats that did not previously have extensive tree canopies became forested in their absence. Now that cormorant numbers are rebounding there is a change in the vegetation, a change that is completely in keeping with natural life-cycles as native wildlife interact with the habitats they have evolved to inhabit.
Cormorants are Returning Island Habitats to Their Original State
The concern for island and shoreline habitats is vastly exaggerated given that cormorants occupy only 3% of the 35,000 islands in the Great Lakes Basin. In fact, cormorants are returning island habitats to their original state, as they would have been had cormorants never been wiped out in the first place.
It’s true that the excrement of cormorants is acidic, and as it leaks from their tree-top nests trees will die off, over time. This is a far slower and gradual process than that caused by human activities like clear-cut logging, and wide-scale tree removal for urban or agricultural development. As the tree canopy dies off, sun is able to penetrate the forest floor, allowing new growth vegetation to rebound. This new, ground-level growth will nurture other species of wildlife and allow those diverse populations to enjoy a cycle of rebound and recovery. This ebb and flow of vegetation and wildlife is part of a natural evolutionary cycle.
The problem appears to lie with a misguided human view of forests as aesthetically-pleasing landscapes, instead of vibrant and ever-changing eco-systems. We see governmental ministries and parks managers adopt a “gardening’ mindset where natural lands are artificially tweaked and groomed to achieve a state that seems suitable to their idea of “balance,” an idea that is clearly at odds with the balance that nature itself works out when free from human interference.
Middle Island, in Lake Erie, which hosts a large cormorant colony, turns vibrant green in the spring with low level vegetation. The early spring picture, below, shows the forest floor with new spring vegetative growth and a Canada goose nest. This is what becomes possible as the tree canopy opens, a process aided by the nesting activities of cormorants. There is nothing ecologically destructive about letting nature act naturally. The number of trees killed by the presence of cormorants, either in absolute terms or as a percentage of trees overall, is miniscule.
Tree Loss Through Development Far Exceeds That Caused by Cormorants
Human activities sanctioned by government cause far more tree-loss and environmental damage than that caused by cormorants. By simply eliminating that part of the Ontario government’s omnibus bill 66 that will allow “development” in Ontario’s Green Belt and on the Oak Ridges Moraine will lead to the saving of significantly more trees than would occur from eliminating all cormorants, pelicans and herons from the province. A minor reduction in allowable tree removal by the forest industry would do the same. We bring human values to the equation. When killing trees is linked to profit we see that trees are poorly protected by governments. Yet, a much smaller degree of tree loss caused by wildlife is often used as an excuse to institute and fund the killing of wild animals.
A Recovered Species
Far from being overabundant, cormorant numbers are relatively modest, have stabilized and are dropping in some areas. According to the Journal of Great Lakes Research, “The total Great Lakes population of breeding cormorants for 2000 is estimated at 115,000 pairs (=nests).” (Weseloh, D.V. Chip et al, Population Trends and Colony Location of Double-crested Cormorants in the Canadian Great Lakes and Immediately Adjacent Areas, 1990-2000: Manager’s Guide, Journal of Great Lakes Research, Volume 28, Issue 2, 2002, Pages 125 – 144).
Unfortunately, we really don’t know how many cormorants currently nest in Ontario. Until last year, the Ontario government had not conducted a cormorant count since 2009 and then only in the lower Great Lakes basin. The number of cormorant nests counted at that time was 42,200.
Ontario government conducted a cormorant count in 2019 but has not released the results. We know very little about how the counts were conducted. We filed a Freedom of Information request but have not yet received the data.
More recent nest counts by our US counterparts show a population in alarming decline. In a more recent paper in response to the proposed cormorant hunt, Linda Wires, a Conservation Biologist and colonial waterbird expert writes, “Monitoring by F. Cuthbert and L. Wires (unpubl. Data) regularly undertaken for the USFWS document a 36% decline in US Great Lakes between 2005 and 2016.” (Comments submitted by Linda Wires on Proposed Double-crested Cormorant hunt in Ontario, December 30, 2018 – link above).
If the decline is as steep as Wires and Cuthbert nest counts indicate, the proposed Ford government hunt could have a significant negative impact on the cormorant population in Ontario.
At Risk of Extinction
Only about 3% of potential island sites in the Great Lakes are suitable for cormorant nesting — just 3% — yet even this small amount of land is begrudged them. Because they are conspicuous birds that congregate in colonies and nest on exposed islands and peninsulas, they are particularly vulnerable, being easily targeted and killed.
If Premier Ford implements the government’s cormorant management plan, small congregations could be wiped out in just a few minutes or a few hours, while larger colonies could be destroyed in just a few days or over a few weeks. Years of effort and thousands of dollars to recover the species will have been for nothing.
Irrational Hatred for Native Birds
Radical cormorant-haters have already attacked colonies under cover of night, destroying nests, stomping on chicks and killing adults. Once the proposed changes to the law come into effect, people will be given free rein to destroy as many cormorants as they want. It wouldn’t take many people very long to wipe out most cormorants in the province, leaving just a tiny remnant of their population in a few protected areas. And driving them back to near extinction or even worse in Ontario is a real possibility.
Media Release: March 12, 2019 – Ontario government ignores staff advice