Species at Risk Ontario (SARO)

“Species at Risk” is an umbrella term that covers four categories of risk assessment. A species is considered at risk if it is Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern. Extirpated means that the species still exists somewhere and used to exist in Ontario, but no longer does. Two species fall into this category in Ontario: the Eskimo curlew and the Greater prairie chicken. Endangered means a species is close to extirpation. There are currently 13 endangered species in Ontario, all of which have been seen on Pelee Island in past years. Threatened means the species is declining and may become endangered if steps are not taken now to protect them. There are 11 threatened species in Ontario, most of which have been seen on Pelee. Special Concern means the species lives in the wild in Ontario, but could become threatened if population declines continue. There are 42 Species at Risk in Ontario, including the American white pelican (Threatened) and Evening grosbeak (Special Concern). Although these have been seen sporadically on Pelee Island, PIBO is monitoring only the seven listed below through such programs as the Marsh Monitoring Program and the Breeding Birds of Pelee Island initiative. Other bird species that use Pelee Island as a migration stopover may also be at risk, but PIBO is not currently monitoring migrant Species at Risk. For example, the Golden eagle is Endangered in Ontario, but we do not currently monitor it because Golden eagles are not known to nest on the island. However, we are monitoring the resident Bald eagle.

Evening grosbeak | Photo by Paul Jones

American white pelican | Photo by Paul Jones

Acadian flycatcher | Photo by Mike Burrell

Acadian flycatcher

Endangered.  The Acadian flycatcher is one of many lookalike flycatchers that breed in undisturbed mature woods. This species is endangered in Ontario mainly because of habitat loss due to wholesale forest-clearing. Several Acadian flycatchers were observed on Pelee in the 1980s, mostly associated with the Stone Road Alvar. Several were found again in 2012, and one was banded by PIBO staff. Four Acadian flycatchers were seen on Pelee in 2016, but none have been seen or heard since.

Prothonotary warbler

Endangered. Wetland drainage and the removal of dead snags have reduced the principal nesting sites for these cavity-nesting birds. There are probably fewer than 30 Prothonotary warblers (known to birders as PROWs) in all of Ontario. PIBO installed Prothonotary nest boxes in the swamps around Fish Point, and a small breeding population developed. In 2019 only one PROW was seen on the island, and no breeding was recorded in the boxes or elsewhere. In early 2020, however, a female Prothonotary warbler was seen carrying nesting material at Fish Point, and in August a juvenile was seen near the same spot, raising our hopes that at least one pair successfully bred on the island.

Prothonotary warbler| Photo by Paul Jones

Yellow breasted chat | Photo by Brian E. Small

Yellow-breasted chat

Endangered. The Yellow-breasted chat is a large warbler that spends most of its time in thickets and dense undergrowth, and so is rarely seen. Such thickets and second-growth are becoming rarer in Ontario as the need for farmland increases. Chats are also susceptible to nest-parasitism by Brown-headed cowbirds. Since 2003, PIBO staff have monitored up to seven Yellow-breasted chat nesting territories, but since then, the decline has been steep. Two were heard singing in 2016, but no nests were found. In 2019, no chats were seen or heard on the island. Two were observed in June and August 2020, but it is not known if they nested on the island.

Barn swallow

Threatened. Barn swallows endure multiple threats. Apart from increased use of insecticides, modern farming techniques reduce their nesting and foraging abilities. They have to compete for nesting sites with the ubiquitous House sparrow. And climate change produces sudden, late-spring cold snaps in their breeding territories. Barn swallows are among the 35 breeding species on Pelee, and PIBO continues to monitor mating pairs from the time they arrive in early April.

For more information on the history and decline of the barn swallow, read Sumiko Onishi’s report.

Barn Swallow | Photo by Richard K. Cooper

Chimney Swift | Photo by George L. Armistead

Chimney swift

Threatened. Simply put, people don’t build chimneys the way they used to, and some new houses don’t have chimneys at all, thus reducing nesting sites for Chimney swifts. Pesticides have also reduced insect populations, which are the swift’s principal diet. There are two known Chimney swift nesting spots on Pelee Island, and every year PIBO checks several other promising sites. During their morning census walk, staff regularly see these birds on Fish Point during the migration seasons.

Least bittern

Threatened. A very secretive wetland species, Least bitterns are difficult to find and observe, making it hard to accurately assess their presence. The drainage of wetlands to increase Ontario farmland has seriously reduced their habitat. PIBO monitors island wetlands as part of our Marsh Monitoring Program (MMP), and staff have recorded three active nests on Lighthouse Point. They routinely search likely territories with audio equipment: in 2019 four individual Least bitterns responded to the calls.

Least bittern | Photo by Benoit Jobin

Bald eagle | Photo by Richard K. Cooper

Bald eagle

Special Concern. Bald eagles were very close to extirpation in Ontario a decade ago, due largely to pesticides and other contaminants in their food supply. But rigid conservation efforts have downgraded the specie’s risk assessment to Special Concern. There are several Bald eagle nests on Pelee, where mating pairs have been observed raising young, and Bald eagles are often seen during the daily Dawn Walk. In May 2020, PIBO staff watched two juvenile Bald eagles as they grabbed fish from the pond at Fish Point.