The Canada warbler, a species of special concern according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), is one example of a priority species that could have benefited from this data earlier. It’s a small, round boreal bird, with gentle, inquisitive eyes, a blue-gray back, and a vibrant yellow underside. A black band around its throat with dangling black lines stands out like a statement necklace. Its song is as exuberant as its color: rapid, confident, expecting a reply. Current Canadian population estimates for the Canada warbler range from 2.4 to 10.4 million, with results from the Breeding Bird Survey showing a potential decline of 51 per cent between 1970 and 2019.
That may sound like a large number, but it’s also a large decline. With around 60 to 65 percent of the Canada warbler’s population nesting in the boreal, protecting the forest means safeguarding its — and other boreal birds’ — future.
Collecting more acoustic data is a vital part of the Indigenous Guardians’ collaboration with Audubon to measure the impact of habitat loss on Canada’s boreal birds. According to Wells, the boreal recordings are crucial for establishing baseline data on the state of the avian soundscape. The recordings are combined with Indigenous knowledge of the region’s changes over time.
Two key recording projects are situated along the Poplar River and the Seal River Watershed, both in Manitoba. The Poplar River, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, runs through a vibrant green forest that is full of life. It is part of the Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO World Heritage Site, a protected area almost the size of Belgium. The land is the ancestral home of four Anishinaabe First Nations: Bloodvein First Nation, Little Grand Rapids First Nation, Pauingassi First Nation and Poplar River First Nation.
“We’ve been doing lots of research and we’ve been doing lots of recording,” says Ray Rabliauskas, the program’s coordinator for Poplar River First Nation’s traditional lands, who has worked and lived in the community for over three decades. “We’ve been…going back to what the Elders did and going back to what the ancestors did.” The people of Poplar River feel the ultimate responsibility for the land is theirs. The Anishinaabe say, he adds, that “this is where…we were put to live — and…we recognize this area, and we have to look after it the way we used to.”
Extending beyond their own responsibility to the land, Rabliauskas sees what they do — combining Western science with Indigenous knowledge — as having a global impact. The Anishinaabe “protect the trees,” he says. “They protect the environment for birds, but also, the work that the trees and the plants do by creating oxygen and taking carbon dioxide away. They really believe it affects the world, so it’s important to them.”