Every so often, the WRRB likes to share details about a species in Wek’èezhìı that has been designated as a Species at Risk. This season’s feature is a small water bird known as the Horned Grebe. This bird has yellow feathers behind its eyes, which extend in little tufts along the back of its otherwise black head. The body of this bird is typically black with chestnut-red on the neck and flank areas. These birds can be found in many places in Canada, most notably in the Yukon, across the Northwest Territories, east of the Coast Mountains located in British Columbia, as well as throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. There are also some found in the southern portion of Nunavut and northwestern Ontario; however, the highest population densities may be found in what is known as the Prairie Potholes Region, which is across southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
The western population of this bird is currently listed by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) as being in the bottom of the status pyramid for animals they assess. Horned Grebes are currently at the ‘special concern’ level, which means there is a strong possibility that they will move to threatened or endangered status unless steps are taken to mitigate the pressures they face. According to data provided by ECCC, their special concern status is due to the population of the Horned Grebe having declined 57.4% between 1970 and 2017. The Horned Grebe faces many threats, including habitat loss (due to loss of wetlands, continued development, and climate change), use of pesticides, industrial waste including oil spills, certain contaminants like dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), as well as agricultural run-off. Other threats include annual and perennial non-timber crops, agricultural and forestry effluents, and changes in precipitation and hydrological regimes.
ECCC has submitted a draft Management Plan to the WRRB, which articulates what steps they plan to take to research, monitor, and mitigate the threats faced by the Horned Grebe to slow their decline, and hopefully increase their numbers over time. Their main intention, according to their plan, is “to maintain, over the next 30 years (2020-2050), population levels at or above the average population levels of the past 30 years for which data is available (1987-2017), throughout the species’ Canadian range”. They have outlined several strategies to do this, including habitat conservation and stewardship, population monitoring and surveys, as well as further research on the species.
The Board formally supported the posting of the draft Management Plan for the Horned Grebe (Podiceps auratus), Western Population, in Canada on the Species at Risk Act public registry for a 60-day public comment period. Following the completion of the 60-day public comment period, the WRRB understands that if no significant comments are received, ECCC will consider the document final and there will be no further review. As per the WRRB’s Rule for Management Proposals, ECCC will be required to provide written notification to the Board that the recovery strategy is finalized and when it will be implemented.
Figure 1. Distribution of the Horned Grebe in North America (from Cornell Lab - Birds of North America’s Website, Stedman 2018)
Figure 2. Provided by ECCC