News / Toronto

Community group pushes to make Toronto Islands designated bird sanctuary

There are over 90 migrant bird sanctuaries across Canada, none of them in Toronto.

Hummingbirds are among many migratory birds that stay on the Toronto Islands in warmer temperatures.

Torstar News Service

Hummingbirds are among many migratory birds that stay on the Toronto Islands in warmer temperatures.

Thousands of migratory birds make stopovers every spring and summer at the Toronto Islands as they travel throughout the continent. Now, one Toronto group wants the islands to become a full-fledged sanctuary.

The Toronto Field Naturalists are pushing for an official Bird Sanctuary designation for the city's main summer destination. They're counting on community support to gain the backing of city council, though the title is bestowed by the

They’re counting on community support to gain the backing of city council, though the title is bestowed by Environment and Climate Change Canada under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

"Other places that have received this designation tend to be isolated," said Anne Purvis, a longtime Toronto birder and board member of the group. "Toronto Islands is in a unique position to add an extra layer of protection against any damage on the natural habitat for these birds."

The group is collecting signatures through an online petition, and its members will go before the city's Parks and Environment Committee this Thursday. Coun. Joe Cressy is tabling a motion to support their request.

The official designation would better protect the birds and their habitat. Stricter regulations prohibit the theft, harm or destruction of the birds' nests or eggs, backed up with fines under the Migratory Birds Act. Closer management of the area means improvements to infrastructure like signage to limit damage.

There are more than 90 migratory bird sanctuaries across Canada, with only nine in Ontario and none in the Toronto area. The most recent is on Eleanor Island, a small rocky area in Lake Muskoka, which was designated in 1971.

Purvis said some of the most popular migratory birds such as hummingbirds, songbirds and birds of prey travel to Central and South America during winter months and return in summer for their mating season. That's when they need extra protection as they "fatten up and refuel" for the next trip, she said.

"There are some areas on the Toronto Islands that have become degraded over time as habitat," she said. "What we're hoping is that the designation will focus the attention of local environmental groups on fixing that habitat and keeping an eye on it."

Correction: This story has been updated from a previous version, which incorrectly stated the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change was in charge of the Migratory Birds Act.

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