This International Migratory Bird Day, May 14, marks the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty. To celebrate the centennial, four student ambassadors have been travelling the Pacific Flyway, a migratory bird route that spans from Alaska to Patagonia, in southern South America.
The Migratory Bird Treaty, signed between the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) on August 16, 1916, was the first major piece of legislation to protect birds that migrate across international borders.
The treaty implemented regulations on hunting and commercial activities. Since being signed in 1916, three treaties have followed to further facilitate the conservation and management of migratory birds.
The centennial journey began with American students Jean Carlos Rodriguez and Christian McWilliams, who left southern California at the beginning of March. They were joined by Canadian students Dustin Patar and Khiran O’Neill in Delta, B.C., and the group of four continued together along Canada’s West Coast.
The trip, initially created through a partnership between the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Environment for the Americas, expanded to include several other partnerships including Environment and Climate Change Canada. The goal is to raise awareness about the centennial and the importance of protecting migratory birds.
The Canadian ambassadors say the experience of travelling part of the flyway was one of a kind.
“Not many jobs would give us the opportunity to be adventurous like this,” says O’Neill.
A typical day saw the ambassadors meeting up with experts to learn about birds in the area, and they sometimes participated in activities such as bird banding. At night, the ambassadors took time to post blogs as a way of sharing their daily experiences with the public.
The following morning, the ambassadors would depart for their next destination. The Canadians covered about 3,500 kilometres in nine days, which O’Neill said put into perspective the vast distance migratory birds cover.
Prince Rupert, B.C., was the end of the road for the Canadian students, while the American students continued up to Alaska. The Canadians are now working on a short documentary about the Migratory Bird Treaty and their experience as Pacific Flyway ambassadors.
“It’s been a great learning experience for us and it’s a great way to get people to care and to give researchers and conservationists the opportunity to share the interesting stuff they do,” says O’Neill.
“[Dustin] and I both agreed early on in our trip that it would be great if this particular program could continue past the centennial.”
Patar says that because the treaty was signed during the First World War, it didn’t get the attention it deserved. He hopes their work as ambassadors will help change this by informing people about just how significant the treaty is.
“There’s so much focus on climate change nowadays, it’s just part of the daily discussion, and I think that to some extent that started with the treaty,” he says.
Both Patar and O’Neill say meeting up with the American ambassadors was symbolic of the United States and Canada uniting under the treaty, making it a special way to commemorate the centennial.
The Migratory Bird Treaty shows how important birds are in Canada’s history. However, we still don’t have a national bird. Canadian Geographic is looking to change that. Click here to learn about our National Bird Project and vote for Canada’s national bird.