Sanctuary saves birds at Ottawa Bluesfest
By Darren Lum
Published July 3, 2018
When it comes to saving animals, Monika Melichar of the Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary regularly goes above and beyond. Remember the doe with an arrow in its head found in Haliburton during the winter? That was her rescue. Mirabelle the deer is still recovering at Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.
Last week, when workers at the Ottawa Bluesfest found a killdeer’s nest sitting where their main stage was set to be built, she came to the rescue again.
Killdeer are not endangered, but are a federally protected migratory species under the Canada’s Migratory Birds Convention Act. Protection means no one can disturb, remove, damage or destroy the nests without approval.
This nest was discovered on Friday, June 22 on the grounds of the Canadian War Museum at LeBreton Flats. The National Capital Commission is the custodian of the property, which is owned by the federal government. Bluesfest contacted the NCC about the discovery, which then hired a security guard to protect the nest, which was taped off. Organizers subsequently got federal government approval to have the nest moved and then put out a public call for help.
Melichar responded and made the three-plus hour drive from the Blairhampton area on Tuesday afternoon.
“They were looking for a rehab centre that had a permit to incubate eggs of migratory, and, thus, federally protected birds. We hold that special permit, so I extended an offer to help out,” Melichar wrote in an email to the Echo. “I was under the impression they only needed an egg incubator. Even though they have a wildlife centre in Ottawa that specializes in birds, that centre did not hold a permit for collecting and incubating eggs of protected species.”
After Environment Canada gave the OK, a platform for the nest was constructed. Melichar moved the killdeer’s nest with four eggs incrementally. She started her move on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
“The killdeer built their nest in a location that was made of cobblestone, and surrounded by gravel pathways and then grass,” Melichar said. “Our task was to move the nest at one metre increments every 20 minutes or so. We had to be slow and patient, allowing the birds to resume incubation after every small move. It actually went textbook perfect! We made it across the different terrains without any problems. The whole procedure took us about six hours to accomplish. Tuesday evening we only moved them eight metres so the next morning, at the crack of dawn (5 a.m.) we continued until the mission was accomplished at around 8 a.m. The final stage was the most difficult as we moved the eggs delicately into the new nesting area.”
The nest was eventually moved like this up to 25 metres away from where the main stage was erected.
On Saturday, June 30, Bluesfest organizers announced that the eggs had hatched.
According to CBC, three of the four eggs hatched on Saturday and the fourth on Sunday. However, by the time the fourth bird hatched, the mother and three babies had left the nest. The remaining chick is being cared for at the Wild Bird Care Centre in Ottawa until it can be released into the wild.
Melichar was shocked how much media attention the situation got.
“What an adventure! Yes, Ottawa was quite the media circus! I cannot even remember who interviewed me but there were at least five different media reps there ... I know CBC did a morning show and a video, then there was the Ottawa Citizen, CTV, etc., ... it was quite the zoo,” she wrote in an email to the Echo. Reports also appeared in The Globe and Mail, National Post, Washington Post and the BBC.
The additional attention may be helpful for the Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary, which relies on donations.
“It’s so important to promote wildlife conservation efforts, and how we help here at the sanctuary,” she said.
Mark Monahan, Bluesfest executive director and event founder, didn’t know how it was going to turn out since all of the experts were pessimistic.
“Many of them were saying, ‘Look, it is not possible. It’s highly unlikely the birds will follow the nest.’ So, our expectations weren’t high. In fact, one of the reasons we had Monika come down was her ability to incubate the eggs. Our thought was: this may not work out. Therefore the eggs are going to have to go to her wildlife centre. Honestly, it worked beyond our wildest dreams,” he said.
Although two biologists with the NCC made the tray for the nest to be moved, they were not licensed or prepared to do what Melichar did, particularly with the attention of the international media.
“It was quite the international story. People were leery about jumping in and obviously if it was unsuccessful [no one] wants to get tagged with this thing, right?” Monahan said.
He hopes the publicity can alert the public to the work people like Melichar do.
“It’s important to cast a light on the work these folks do with very little funding, if any, from the government and most of them are surviving on donations or just hand-to-mouth existence. It’s really tough, but it’s really a labour of love for these folks and again if this can sort of cast a little light how important it is the work these folks do then all the better,” he said.
Along with a donation to the sanctuary, Bluesfest provided Melichar with accommodations, meals, a T-shirt, socks and a toothbrush during her work to move the nest – and free passes to any of the shows.
Monahan hopes Melichar can return to enjoy the event.
Asked if he’d call her again with a wildlife emergency, he replied that her number is now on his speed dial.
Melichar was happy to help.
“Honestly, I cannot believe it was me who helped save the biggest music festival in Canada!” she wrote.
Close to 300,000 people attend Bluesfest each year.