Columbia Wetlands Waterbird Survey (CWWS)

Project by Wildsight Golden.

Location: The communities of Fairmont Hot Springs, Windermere, Radium Hot Springs, Edgewater, Brisco, Spillimacheen, Harrogate, Nicholson and Donald; Invermere and Golden, B.C.

For more information on this project, please contact Rachel Darvill, Program Biologist, Golden, B.C.


The Columbia Wetlands Waterbird Survey (CWWS) is a five-year citizen-science project that collects inventory data on over 50 waterbird species, several of which are listed as species of concern or threatened federally under the Species at Risk Act (e.g. Western Grebe, Horned Grebe), and/or are provincially blue or red listed (e.g. Great Blue Heron, American Bittern, California Gull, American White Pelican). Numerous species targeted by CWWS research are listed as priority waterfowl species and other priority wetland birds of the CIJV. The CWWS works to expand partnerships with a number of communities, regional and national groups, and in particular with the organizations that can have a considerable effect on waterbird and wetland conservation (e.g. CWS, Bird Studies Canada (BSC), Ducks Unlimited (DU), and Canadian Intermountain Joint Venture (CIJV)).

There are currently no surveys for waterbirds or waterfowl occurring in the Columbia Wetlands through either Canadian Wildlife Service or any other known agency. Although widely recognized as providing important habitat for birds (BC FLNRO, n.d.; Environment Canada, 2014; Harrison et al., 2010; Kaiser, McKelvey & Smith, 1977), official population numbers haven’t been produced for priority waterbird species of the CIJV within the Columbia Wetlands. There is also a lack of recent bird count data available needed to demonstrate that one or more bird species meet the standard Important Bird Area (IBA) criteria and thresholds in the Columbia Wetlands.

A lack of bird data also means that habitat threats and management recommendations cannot be formulated; well informed decisions cannot be made regarding conserving bird habitat in the Columbia Wetlands. Before further conservation actions are recommended and/or implemented for the Columbia Wetlands, gathering baseline data on waterbirds is required to determine their distribution, abundance and/or population trends. We believe there are many important outcomes of the CWWS, including long-lasting community benefits and scientific contributions.

Research Questions

  1. What are the single day counts for all waterfowl species and for some other wetlands bird species in the Columbia Wetlands, and do any species trigger the designation of Important Bird Area (IBA) status for the Columbia Wetlands?
  2. Where are the most critical migration staging areas in the Columbia Wetlands for CIJV priority waterbirds during spring and fall migrations?
  3. What are the greatest habitat threats to those areas identified as critical bird habitat (staging areas) in the Columbia Wetlands and what are the best actions (i.e. securement, enhancement, stewardship, education, communication) to help alleviate identified threats?

Anticipated contribution to scientific knowledge base

The CWWS aims to collect waterbird inventory data in the Columbia Wetlands for five consecutive years (2015-2019) during both spring and fall migrations. After baseline data has been collected, in a partnership (with CWS, BSC, DU and IMJV), we aim to determine where critical wetland habitat areas are for migrating waterfowl and other waterbird species in the Columbia Wetlands. To the best of our knowledge, this has never been done before therefore the CWWS will add greatly to the scientific knowledge base for numerous birds in the Columbia Wetlands. Data gathered will also allow us to track changes in population trends (for species at risk and CIJV priority birds), as well determine as abundance and distribution patterns in the Columbia Wetlands; obtaining population estimate data for waterbirds of the Columbia Wetlands requires long-term data. CWWS data will be useful for possible designation of an Important Bird Area (IBA) for the Columbia Wetlands, and we will continue to utilize and engage numerous citizen-scientists (~50/year, plus high school students) in this innovative project.
Additionally, we plan to initiate a pilot Marsh Bird Monitoring Program (MBMP) in partnership with CWS and BSC. This project will be launched (and funded) independently of the CWWS, but will provide complementary data for the CWWS research. The long-term goal for implementing a pilot MBMP is also to establish lacking baseline inventory on Marsh Birds (including assessing habitat value), which will lead us to determine where critical wetland habitat areas are for Marsh Birds. Determining critical habitat areas will help direct conservation/restoration efforts, assist in developing management recommendations for Marsh Birds in the Columbia Wetlands. The CWS has been conducting marsh bird surveys in the West Kootenay Region since 2013 and CWS is interested in using count data from the Columbia Wetlands MBMP to provide an excellent comparison to these surveys with which to evaluate the effects of water management practises on marsh bird populations. We plan to partner with CWS on this research and publish results in the scientific literature.

Anticipated long-term conservation impacts and benefits

  • The CWWS will help maintain international Ramsar responsibilities by addressing one of the three pillars under the Convention’s mission; working towards wise use of all wetlands. To achieve this wise use, the Convention recommends contracting parties to develop programs covering wetlands inventory, monitoring, research, training, education and public awareness.
  • Collection of baseline data is useful for land-use management decisions that affect all Columbia Valley residents; the Columbia Wetlands provides a significant amount of ecosystem services for humans (locally, regionally and globally) that are necessary to maintain in order for human well-being to persist (Daily, 1997).
  • The CWWS engages residents through citizen-science and public education opportunities, increasing peoples appreciate for birds and the wetlands, fostering a stewardship ethic.
  • Nature-based learning activities and engagement opportunities for school-aged children.
  • Determining critical bird habitat areas within the Columbia Wetlands, identifying the greatest habitat threats to those areas identified as critical, and identifying the and best actions (i.e. securement, stewardship, education, communication) to help alleviate defined threats, will assist in the conservation of CIJV priority waterbirds and the Columbia Wetlands.

Contributions to priorities under the associated NAWMP Canadian Habitat Joint Venture Implementation Plan

  1. CWWS works to expand partnerships, particularly with those organizations whose land management policies and practices can have considerable effect on waterfowl and wetland conservation (e.g. FLNRO, CWS, DU, BSC, Windermere District Farmers Institute (WDFI)).
  2. The CWWS continues to strengthen the NAWMP/CIJV by building the biological knowledge base on priority waterfowl species and other priority wetland bird species of the CIJV.
  3. The CWWS’s long-term goals aim to sustain or increase waterfowl populations, while providing places to recreate and ecological services that benefit society.
  4. “The significance of the CIJV to over-wintering, moulting and staging ducks is poorly understood, but it is believed that several million birds stage here at various times prior to moving to southern wintering areas in the western United States” (Harrison et al., 2010). The CWWS is helping us learn more about the significance of the Columbia Wetlands as a migration staging habitat area during both spring and fall migrations.