New Birds of Nunavut book is a tell-all on the territory’s birds
Two volumes contain info on 295 species, 800 photos
If you get excited when you spot a snowy owl, feel sad when the last snow buntings leave town, enjoy the taste of a fat Canada goose, or are simply an avid bird-watcher, ask Santa to put the tremendous Birds of Nunavut books on your Christmas gift list.
In its 820 pages, the two-volume set offers the first complete—and page-turning—survey of every species of birds known to occur in the territory.
Birds of Nunavut documents 295 species, providing information on their identification, distribution, ecology, behaviour and conservation. That’s complemented by 800 colour photographs showing plumages, nests, eggs (such as a clutch of black eggs of a Pacific loon) and young for most breeding species.
Right now, of course, as winter sets in, you won’t see many birds in Nunavut, apart from ravens and the occasional small birds, such as red polls, hardy stragglers that decide to tough out the winter.
But, despite its short season of warmth, Nunavut overall remains “one of the world’s last great frontiers for the study of birds in pristine natural environments,” say the editors of Birds of Nunavut, bird experts James Richards and Anthony Gaston.
Some 145 species, representing an Arctic population of millions of birds, come to breed in Nunavut and you can see them nesting on the land, cliffs and shorelines during the spring and early summer.
Right now, the biggest dangers to Nunavut’s birds come from outside the territory, and the books’ editors said for this reason that “the status of Nunavut birds therefore often has more to do with conditions outside than within the territory”—although pollution and tourism remain a worry.
In his foreword to Birds of Nunavut, Jason Akearok, executive director of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, said that in the coming years, climate change, which is expected to affect the Arctic in many ways, will also afffect birds.
“We are already seeing its impact on birds, including changing prey species for southern Arctic seabirds; ‘shrubification’ of former tundra that affects nesting waterfowl and sea ducks; and increasing storm events that put migrating shorebirds at risk,” Akearok said.
Some of climate change’s impacts on birds have already made it into the news: diminishing numbers of red knots, the southern migration of snowy owls, a die-off of geese near Cambridge Bay and the late arrival of geese and other migratory birds during this cooler-than-usual past spring.
Outside of winter, without putting on binoculars, you can generally expect to see many shorebirds, ducks, geese, ptarmigans, snow buntings and the like in Nunavut.
And, if you are lucky enough to visit Nunavut’s Akimiski Island in James Bay or live in the territory’s other hot-spots for birds, which include Kugluktuk, Bathurst Inlet, and communities along the coast of western Hudson Bay, Birds of Nunavut reveals that you are liable to see many more rarer visitors from the south.
These include the perky black-and-white, long-eared owl spotted by Gordy Kidlapik of Arviat in 2012, a sighting which is noted in Birds of Nunavut.
In Arviat, house sparrows even maintain a small breeding population, the book notes. On that, Kidlapik told Nunatsiaq News that everyone was amazed at that this bird can go “upside down chasing flies.”
Kidlapik also said he saw his first robin this year in Arviat, although these birds have been around his community for about 15 years.
Since the late 1990s, robins, which used to be unknown in Nunavut, have now become more common sights in Iqaluit, along with northern wheatears and American kestrels.
Other places in Nunavut also occasionally see surprising visitors, which are documented in Birds of Nunavut: A rufous hummingbird, which in 2009 showed up in Chesterfield Inlet and, before that, in Bathurst Inlet; an American coot that appeared last October in Igloolik; red-winged blackbirds in Pond inlet; blue and white kingfishers near Cambridge Bay; and mountain bluebirds, like the one earlier this year in Rankin Inlet.
Birds of Nunavut also provides information about birds from the pre-contact period in the Arctic, records from early European arrivals in the region, data from today’s wildlife surveys and updates on conservation measures and status.
A European visitor in 1610 to Digges Island found thick-billed murres hanging in a stone structure: “I turned off the uppermost stone, and found them hollow within and full of fowles hanged by their neckes.”
Arctic birds remain a source of food for Inuit in Nunavut. But the hunting of geese, ducks and swans appears to have little impact on these bird populations, unless around communities, where, for example, ptarmigans may end up in short supply, said the Birds of Nunavut, which included input from 18 contributors.
Birds of Nunavut also comes in an e-book version, easier to tote around than the two weighty, if beautiful, volumes.
But these would be good for all Nunavut schools, libraries and wildlife groups—or any bird-lovers—to own, read and re-read.
Although Birds of Nunavut is English-only, many Inuktut names are given with the species’ description.
If there’s any shortcoming to be noted in Birds of Nunavut, it’s the lack of traditional Inuit knowledge about birds, but this could fill another book all on its own.
For more information on obtaining Birds of Nunavut you can go to the website of the University of British Columbia press, which published Birds of Nunavut earlier this year.
All all revenue from sales will be donated to conservation projects and the education of youth throughout Nunavut.