Two generations helping Saskatchewan bird species — one birdhouse at a time

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WATCH: While some species of birds are on the decline in Saskatchewan, Lorne Scott has made it his life's mission to make sure local bird populations aren't silenced – Apr 1, 2018

The singing of birds is a sound many of us take for granted — but what if that chirping ceased to exist?

While some species of birds are on the decline in Saskatchewan, Lorne Scott has made it his life’s mission to ensure bird populations aren’t silenced.

The photos, awards and plaques that scatter the walls and shelves of his farmhouse just south of Indian Head are evidence of a life dedicated to conservation.

Scott discovered a passion for the outdoors at a young age. When he was 15, he began building birdhouses and by 1975, he had set out 2,000 nest boxes.

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“As far back as I remember, I was tagging along with dad when he was hunting ducks and it just sort of grew on me,” Scott recalled.

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In 1969, he obtained a federal bird banding permit and has since banded more than 35,000 birds, including 8,000 mountain bluebirds and 12,000 tree swallows.

But what’s become evident over the years, Scott said, is the decline of several species, including the bluebird.

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“By [the] early 1990s, they started declining. I had 25 to 30 pairs nesting on the farm, and it gradually diminished until 2016 [where] I had one pair,” Scott said.

Scott’s work with the Whooping Crane Conservation Association since 1974 has been widely recognized. Throughout his life, he’s been involved with so many organizations it’s hard to list them all.

In 1991, Scott was elected the NDP MLA for Indian Head-Wolsely and after being re-elected in 1995, he served as environment minister for four years until his defeat.

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Over the years, his love of birds continued to grow — as species began to decline. Currently, four out of five species on the Prairies are declining.

“Unfortunately we continue to lose more native habitat every year, whether it’s due to the Regina Bypass, farmland or cities expanding,” Scott said.

“We live in what is called the temperate grassland biome. It’s the most endangered and altered landscape in the world, moreso than the Amazon rainforest and the coral reefs — we have a bigger problem right here in southern Saskatchewan.”

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But for some cavity-nesting birds, birdhouses have made a big impact.

“For tree swallows, their numbers have increased dramatically because people have been putting out these nest boxes,” Scott said.

Two years ago, Adam Sanheim started doing just that after receiving two bird feeders.

“‘Obsessed’ is the number-one comment I get,” Sanheim said. “At first it was something different to try, and I just started to enjoy it.”

So far, he’s built more than 100 birdhouses, donating them to groups such as the Regina Wildlife Federation.

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“It really gives us hope,” Scott said. “We — the 70-year-old generation — really left a mess for you, the younger people, to try and salvage some of the things we have.”

While Scott doesn’t build many birdhouses himself these days, for him it’s an encouraging sign to see younger people following in his footsteps.

“Hopefully there will be enough positive action by individuals, land owners and organizations to always have a fairly diverse natural world out there.”