A Glance at a Few Species at Risk in Canada

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The Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane Species Profile

In 1944, there were only 21 Whooping Cranes left in the world. Nonetheless, this species is maintaining its precarious hold on existence, thanks to the help of many Whooping Crane enthusiasts.

Most of this crane's breeding habitat has been destroyed. The birds used to nest along a band stretching from central Illinois northwest through Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba and Saskatchewan into east-central Alberta. Today, their breeding range is six small areas in the Wood Buffalo National Park that total 400 square kilometers, not very much land considering that each breeding pair requires a territory of approximately five square kilometers.

In the fall, after a long migration during which the birds have run a gauntlet of power lines, urban centres, and hunters who shoot by mistake, whoopers arrive at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas where their over-wintering territory has also been greatly diminished and threatened by pollution and oil spills.

In the early 1940s, the National Audubon Society decided to attempt to save the Whooping Crane from extinction. Since then, federal, provincial, state and private agencies have publicized the plight of the whooper and tried to protect it during migration as well as on its wintering and breeding grounds.

The Canada-United States recovery team manages the Whooping crane Recovery Strategy, which includes captive breeding and the reintroduction of young birds into the wild. In spring 2003, there were about 405 wild and captive birds including 185 wild birds of the original wild flock that breeds in Wood Buffalo National Park. Efforts are also underway to establish additional wild populations that do not yet breed or over winter.

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The Swift Fox

Swift Fox Species Profile

The Swift Fox is a small, agile mammal, about the size of a house cat, that was common on Canada's southern Prairies in the nineteenth century. In 1978, the Swift Fox was designated as an extirpated species. Its habitat had been lost to farmland, and it had been the unintended victim of trapping and poisoning campaigns aimed at other animals such as coyotes, wolves and ground squirrels.

Canadian specialists are working closely with specialists in the United States to increase swift fox numbers. Foxes obtained from the United States have been released directly into the wild or bred in captivity to produce offspring that then have been released. Releases have occured in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

This graceful little animal is now re-established in part of its former territory in Canada. In 1999, COSEWIC re-classified the swift fox from the extirpated to endangered. In 2000-2001, surveys were conducted and about 600 swift foxes were counted in the wild in this country.

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The Piping Plover

Piping Plover Species Profile

The Piping Plover is a small migratory shorebird, which breeds only in North America and can be found nesting on ocean beaches, lakeshores, and river sandbars. Its main nesting range is along the Atlantic coast from southwestern Newfoundland and Labrador to South Carolina, and from the Prairie provinces and northwestern Ontario to Colorado. The species has been extirpated as a breeding species from the Canadian Great Lakes, but small numbers nest in Michigan and Wisconsin.

The Piping Plover went into a serious population decline at the turn of the twentieth century because of hunting. It recovered significantly following the implementation of the Migratory Birds Convention between Canada and the United States in 1916. However, threats to the Piping Plover continue. They include predation, human disturbance on beaches used for nesting, and habitat loss. An example of the latter is reduced widths of reservoir beaches as a result of water management. A recovery strategy has been prepared and, in 2001, American and Canadian biologists and volunteers conducted a census on the plover's known breeding and wintering ranges, finding a total nesting population o f 1,454 birds in Canada and 5,945 in the world. Slightly more than 40 percent of the estimated North American breeding population was counted during the wintering range surveys. This low percentage reflects an incomplete census coverage of the known wintering grounds and has also led to speculation that there may be wintering sites that have not yet been located. Recovery activities include fencing out cattle, which can disturb nesting beaches, use of exclosures to protect plover eggs from predators, guardianship programs to reduce the negative effects of all-terrain vehicles and beachgoers on breeding success, controlling access to certain breeding areas, and using different approaches to water management.

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