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Taking action for our eiders

March 30, 2022 New Brunswick Newfoundland & Labrador Nova Scotia Provincial
Common eider in flight
Common eider in flight © DUC

Recent eider deaths remind us about the need for Ducks Unlimited Canada research and conservation

Amherst, N.S. – In recent weeks, Atlantic Canadians have been faced with a string of bad news stories about wild birds: an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (including, recently, a great black-backed gull in Riverview, N.B.), sea birds coated in oil from a tanker spill off the coast of Newfoundland, and more than 130 common eiders found dead on a beach on New Brunswick’s Grand Manan Island.

The eider die-off is a blow to a species already in decline and remains under investigation, though testing has ruled out highly pathogenic avian influenza.  Aerial surveys done by the Province of New Brunswick show numbers of breeding common eider in the Bay of Fundy are declining about three per cent a year—and no one’s sure why. Add to that the reality that the Gulf of Maine, one of the eiders’ primary habitats, is warming faster than 96 per cent of the world’s oceans.

But as overwhelming as bad environmental news can be, conservation experts at Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) note that these tragedies can teach us why continued conservation efforts are so important for these birds.

“Ducks Unlimited Canada’s habitat investments have helped ensure the stability and population growth of many waterfowl species and our continued support is necessary to maintain these trends,” says Adam Campbell, DUC’s manager of provincial operations in Atlantic Canada.  “Despite the success story associated with many ducks, some, like eider are not doing so well. We need to gain a better understanding of the challenges leading to their decline so that actions can be implemented to help. We are committed to working with partners to develop and implement conservation solutions based on sound science.”

We’re taking action for eiders

For nearly a decade, DUC has partnered with Acadia University, the Canadian Wildlife Service, Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry, and more recently with several new Canadian and American partners, on research projects that track and study breeding eiders and their migration patterns along the Eastern Seaboard. This information will make it easier to figure out what threats, either from human activities or predators, the eiders might be running into so we can adapt our conservation efforts to alleviate them.

What you can do to help eiders (and other migratory waterfowl)

Eiders today face an ever-growing list of human-made and environmental threats, from habitat loss to climate change. That’s why our collective efforts to support eider populations now and for the future have never been more important. Here’s a few things you can do to help:

  1. Help birds keep their distance – One thing biologists know for sure is that wild birds tend to get sick more often when they congregate in large numbers. The pandemic has taught humans how easily disease can spread when big groups of people gather; it’s the same thing for birds. Our wetland conservation work means there’s more space for these birds to socially distance while they’re foraging on crustaceans below the water’s surface.

In general, feeding waterfowl not only increases the chances of negative human-wildlife encounters and can make them dependent on people for food, it can also make them sick. The food that people typically feed ducks isn’t as nutritious as what the birds would find for themselves. Feeding waterfowl encourages congregation around food sources and can increase risk of disease transmission like highly pathogenic avian influenza, or avian cholera which affected common eiders in the mid-2000s.

  1. Learn more about eiders – Did you know common eiders, the largest duck in North America, eat mostly mollusks like mussels and clams, and can dive up to 20 metres to forage them? Did you know hens don’t eat during their 26-day incubation period and can lose up to 45 per cent of their body mass as a result? Or that males don’t grow breeding plumage until they’re three years old? Find out more about these striking sea ducks, what habitats they call home, how far they migrate, and where you might be lucky enough to spot one, on DUC’s website.
  2. Encourage youth to get involved – Getting outdoors to explore natural spaces is one of the best ways to engage young people and connect them to wildlife and the value of conservation. DUC offers activities and resources online that can help to inspire and empower them.
  3. Support research and conservation – Your donation will support the research needed to better understand what actions we need to take to help declining eider populations.
  4. Sign up to receive our monthly enewsletter — Become informed about conservation efforts and opportunities in Atlantic provinces and across Canada.
  5. Volunteer — Don’t underestimate the power of individual actions to help an iconic species like the eider. Look for opportunities to volunteer your time with a local habitat conservation organization like DUC. In Atlantic Canada, we’re always looking for volunteers, from Land Guardians, to event planners, to nest-box stewards. Get in touch!

Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) is the leader in wetland conservation. A registered charity, DUC partners with government, industry, non-profit organizations, Indigenous Peoples and landowners to conserve wetlands that are critical to waterfowl, wildlife and the environment. To learn more about DUC’s innovative environmental solutions and services, visit www.ducks.ca.


Contact Information

Chelsea Murray
Communications Specialist