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Margaret Atwood continues to inspire birders, conservationists

Left image: During an online event hosted by Nature Canada in early March, Canadian literary icon and avid bird watcher Margaret Atwood spoke about the ongoing importance of bird conservation work. She and her late husband Graeme Gibson were the 2022 recipients of Nature Canada’s most prestigious conservation award. Right image: Margaret Atwood remains active in regional, national, and international bird conservation initiatives. She is the Honorary Chair of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory. A PIBO banding station is shown here. Right image by Paul Nicholson.

In early March, Nature Canada hosted an online event with Carol Off and featuring Margaret Atwood. It was in part a celebration of Canadian birds and a discussion of conservation issues with Nature Canada’s Bird Friendly Cities partners and other nature leaders.

Apart from being a leading Canadian literary figure, Margaret Atwood has long been an avid bird watcher and conservationist. One of her earliest birding role models was Fred Bodsworth, a family friend and author of The Last of the Curlews. Her late husband Graeme Gibson was a keen birder and conservationist as well and wrote The Bedside Book of Birds. Their decades-long and very active support of organizations such as Nature Canada, BirdLife International, and the Trans Canada Trail as well as regional bird organizations including the Pelee Island Bird Observatory has been inspiring.

During the event, reference was made to the threats represented by habitat loss, off-leash and feral cats, pesticides, and bird-building collisions. “Birds really are our canaries in the mine.”

“We have a choice to make now. We can return to our former path of destruction of the natural world or we can change direction and build nature-based and community-based recovery strategies.” said Atwood. We are far from helpless however.

She plainly sees the value of citizen science and other bird census work, as well as working together in conservation and bird advocacy groups to support birds’ important work as pollinators, seed distributors, and insect eaters. The importance of Indigenous-led conservation was also noted.

Both she and Ted Cheskey, Nature Canada’s Naturalist Director, spoke in particular about the importance of conservation and awareness work now being done by Bird Friendly Cities. “Thank you very much to Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, London, and now Regina. Let’s now add more cities and towns. That would be wonderful.” Atwood remarked.

Even on a personal scale, she encourages people to support birds by drinking shade-grown coffee.

And of course she still encourages Canadians to go outside and enjoy birds. Atwood herself was instrumental in establishing the Springsong bird festival on Pelee Island years ago. It includes a 24-hour green “Big Day” contest and, not surprisingly, a literary component. Atwood continues the tradition of bringing award winning authors to the island for the festival banquet.

Margaret Atwood – along with Graeme Gibson posthumously – is the 2022 recipient of Nature Canada’s Douglas H. Pimlott Award that honours exceptional lifelong contributions to birds and nature.

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