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Rhythm and broods: Ottawa Bluesfest gets federal permission to move migratory bird’s nest

OTTAWA—A plan hatched by an Ottawa music festival to relocate a tiny plover and its egg-laden nest has received the go-ahead from federal authorities.

Environment and Climate Change Canada said it has issued a permit for Ottawa Bluesfest organizers to move the killdeer and its four eggs to a nearby suitable habitat.

The killdeer, a type of plover, enjoys protected status in Canada.
The killdeer, a type of plover, enjoys protected status in Canada.  (Justin Tang / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Workers setting up before next week’s Bluesfest came across an agitated bird, displaying defensive habits of an adult killdeer when a threat or intruder has come too close to its nest.
Workers setting up before next week’s Bluesfest came across an agitated bird, displaying defensive habits of an adult killdeer when a threat or intruder has come too close to its nest.  (Justin Tang / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Mark Monahan, the festival’s executive director, said an official who has a federal licence to handle migratory birds was on her way to help move the eggs.

“We’re hopefully going to have the nest and the eggs to a safe location by the end of the day,” Monahan said Tuesday, adding that setup work on the stages should start soon.

“It’s not ideal, but we have enough time,” he said. “We may have to work some extra hours, but we should be fine.”

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Environment and Climate Change Canada said in a statement Tuesday that the relocation will allow the nest to remain — and the eggs to hatch — in a natural environment.

The bird and its eggs, both of which enjoy protected status in Canada, were nestled on a cobblestone patch that would normally be directly underneath the main Bluesfest stage. Workers came across the killdeer last week when they arrived at the festival venue, which is currently being set up for a July 5 start date.

What the workers described was an agitated bird, displaying the defensive habits of an adult killdeer when a threat or intruder has come too close to its nest.

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Organizers put up yellow caution tape around the nest site, and the National Capital Commission paid for 24-hour security on ground overseen by the federal agency.

Eggs generally take between 24 and 26 days to hatch, and it is unusual for them not to hatch by mid-June. Killdeer young are able to fly away soon after they are hatched, but there was no way to know whether they would hatch quickly.

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Killdeer are not considered a species at risk, although their domestic numbers in Canada have been on the decline over the past four decades.

Still, moving the nest required federal approval, which arrived ahead of a deadline that would have caused a cascade of construction problems for the 11-day music festival, which gets underway next week.

Monika Melichar of Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary in Minden, Ont., some 300 kilometres west of Ottawa, will be moving the nest about 30 metres from where the stage will be located.

But if the mother abandons the eggs, which is a possibility, the eggs will be transported to a facility where they have the best chance of survival.

Meanwhile, biologists with the National Capital Commission have set up the new home for the plover. They took photos of its nest and tried to replicate it as best as possible.

The spot is far enough away that the birds won’t be disturbed by the hundreds of thousands of music fans who will trample through the festival grounds to see the likes of Shawn Mendes, Bryan Adams, Foo Fighters and Dave Matthews Band, among a host of other acts.

“There was a big learning curve,” Monahan said. “Those of us involved with the festival had to quickly get up to speed on what needed to be done, so certainly it’s not something we’d like to go through again. We’re all faced with a situation we’ve never had before.”