SGin Xaana Sdiihltl’lxa: Night Birds Returning

SGin Xaana Sdiihltl’lxa: Night Birds Returning


Parks Canada beaver logo fades in and out. Haida music.

Haida Nation logo / Canada wordmark fades in and out

Cut to sunrise timelapse

[Music starts]

Aerial shot of sun rising, taken from a helicopter

Aerial shot of forest, taken from a helicopter

Shot of monumental pole (rack focus)

Cut to shot of visitor looking at monumental poles

Underwater shot of kelp

Bear scavaging for food on beach

Aerial shot of sea lions on rocks

Haida dancer

Shot of black oystercatcher on rocks

Harlequin ducks on rocks. Music fades into the background.

[Carita Bergman, Parks Canada]

Literally millions of birds migrate to Haida Gwaii every summer to have their chicks.

Aerial shot of forest

The rainforest of the remote islands here harbour over 100 species of breeding birds.

Ancient Murrelet chick in burrow

Parks Canada employee in cave with headlamp

The Ancient Murrelet is a species at risk in Canada and over 50% of the entire global population nests on Haida Gwaii,

and almost half of those are right here in Gwaii Haanas.

Map showing Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site

Some people have asked me, “why is the Ancient Murrelet such an important species?”

Ancient Murrelets on water

and I like to think of them as a barometer of the health of not only the oceans where they feed,

Timelapse of islands

but also the remote islands where they have evolved for thousands of years in complete isolation.

Haida wearing a hat, taking in the scenery. Background music fades out.

Carita Bergman sits on rock, talking

Most visitors to these islands view them as peaceful, quiet retreats,

Lapses into a night-time shot while Carita speaks. Birds chirp in the background.

but at night, these islands really come to life.

Night shot of active Cassin's auklets

Shot of an ancient murrelet burrow at night

Ancient Murrelets evolved to return to their burrows in the dark of the night

to avoid avian predation from native predators such as Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons.

Carita Bergman at an ancient murrelet burrow at night

So here are we are at an Ancient Murrelet burrow

and you can see that they’re pretty cryptic and often hard to spot.

Shot of inside the burrow with ancient murrelet chick

Unlike other birds whose chicks remain in their nests for weeks,

Ancient murrelet chicks travelling from their burrows to the sea. Upbeat music in the background.

Ancient Murrelet chicks tumble from 1their burrows after only 1 or 2 days

drawn to the sea by the calls and songs of their waiting parents.

Shot of a rat on the beach

Unfortunately this is the time of the night when rats are most active

and this puts Ancient Murrelets at great risk of local extinction

on islands where rats have been introduced.

Back to a shot of ancient murrelets dashing to the ocean. Upbeat music stops.

[Birds chirping]

[Music starts]

Ancient murrelet carcass and feathers. Haida music starts.

Sadly though, whole colonies of Ancient Murrelets as well as other seabird species

Rat runs across the beach

have been lost as introduced rats continue to spread throughout the archipelago.

Parks Canada staff embarking on a boat

Staff in discussion as boat moves across the water. Music stops.

Parks Canada, the Haida Nation, and several partners are working together to restore these critical island habitats.

Laurie Wein speaks with ocean as backdrop. New upbeat music track starts.

[Laurie Wein, Parks Canada]

The Night Birds Returning Project is about restoring globally significant seabird populations

particularly those of Ancient Murrelets.

[Music starts]

Ancient murrelets on the ocean

Rat swimming in the ocean

Invasive species like rats are the number one threat to the ecological integrity of Gwaii Haanas.

Rats are voracious in terms of their consumption of eggs of seabird chicks

Shot of a bird carcass and broken eggs

Shot showing rats active at night in forest. Music stops.

they will even take adult seabirds.

The Ancient Murrelet, or the Night Birds as the Haida call them, are particularly impacted by rats.

We’re concerned about their breeding habitat and their breeding success on these islands.

[Music stops]

Timelapse of an island goes from black and white to colour

There have been over 300 successful rat eradications from islands globally.

Staff looking at map. Music in the background.

And we’ve looked to many of those to learn lessons that we could apply here in the Haida Gwaii context.

Staff getting reeady to disembark boat with rat eradication equipment

[Chris Gill, Coastal Conservation]

The Night Birds Returning project has been in planning and development,

and in the implementation phase, since 2009.

Because this is Canada’s first aerial eradication of rats,

we wanted to make sure that we had as many experts as possible to help us with the planning of this project.

Person on a beach looks through binoculors

[Pete McClelland, Coastal Conservation]

Globally now, we’ve got an eradication community that shares information.

Over time, we’ve gotten to more complex and larger islands,

and what had started in New Zealand now is being done in many countries around the world.

A group of people study information on a laptop

[Laurie Wein]

We first started planning the project for a ground-based eradication on smaller islands of Bischofs and Arichika.

Person climbs on rocks near a boat

Aerial shot of an island

Using what we learned from our pilot projects,

we moved on to tackle much larger islands of Murchison and Faraday.

Shot of island from window of a helicopter

These were logistically much more complicated to plan an eradication on,

and required new techniques.

Group in talks as helicopter flies by

The technique that we focused on was an aerial broadcast methodology;

Shot of helicopter with bucket

And we chose that technique because it gave us the highest probability of eradication success.

Shot of pilot and co-pilot from inside the flying helicopter

Helicopter with bucket flies low over the island

It allows to tackle islands of much more complicated terrain, and much bigger in size.

[Gregg Howald, Island Conservation]

Gregg Howald talking while sitting on rocks

The implementation of rat eradications are not taken lightly.


but 2, that the potential impact from the bait that you're using

Helicopter drops bucket on to barge and bucket gets refilled

the mitigation will be appropriate to minimize the risk to the non-target species.

Shot of helicopter taking off, from underneath

Every eradication brings with it the risk of non-target impacts where species that you don’t want to eat the bait do

Person works on a laptop

But with planning and good implementation,

Slo-mo of ancient murrelet birds flying above the ocean

those populations soon recover and far outnumber what they were initially.

A rat runs across rocks

You’re removing predation, you’re removing competition,

Ancient murrelet chicks move across rocks

and so the species come back and the ecosystem as a whole is much healthier.

Montage showing ancient murrelets in the water

At the end of the day, this project is not about the removal of rats from the islands,

it’s really about the recovery of the seabird, the local seabird populations.

And ultimately about restoring balance to the ecosystem.

Sun sets on the islands. Music stops.

Text on screen [In the absence of rats, native shorebirds and songbirds on these islands are once again thriving]. Haida music.

Text on screen [In the coming years, it is expected that breeding seabirds will re-establish their colonies in these areas.]

Point-of-view shot of boat moving through water at sunset

Text on screen [Restoration of islands is critical to safeguarding the extraordinary diversity of native species found on Haida Gwaii and around the world.]

Text [Video and music credits]

Text on screen [special thanks to our partners: Coastal Conservation; Island Conservation, Preventing Extinctions; Conservacion de Islas; Laskeek Bay Conservation Society; Simon Fraser University.]

Text on screen [Financial support was provided by: Luckenbach Oil Spill Restoration Council; NFWF; National Conservation Plan.]

Parks canada signature

Text fades in and out [Copyright Her majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by Parks Canada, 2015]

Haida Nation logo / Canada wordmark fades in and out

Seabirds at risk

Ancient Murrelets (or "night bird" as translated from the Haida language), a species at risk in Canada, are being devastated by invasive rats.

Ancient murrelet chick © Laskeek Bay Conservation Society / Jake Pattison

A significant proportion of the world population of these seabirds breed on remote islands in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site.

Parks Canada, the Haida Nation and several international partners are committed to restoring seabird habitat on several remote islands in Gwaii Haanas, by removing invasive rats.

The protection of species at risk is a high priority for Parks Canada. Through initiatives like this, Parks Canada is achieving conservation results in support of the National Conservation Plan.

View the photo galleries:

Ancient Murrelets come and go from small islands by night during breeding season and spend the rest of their time on the water.

Black rats are a threat to vulnerable island species

Burrowed under the forest floor, the tiny chicks hatch and within days scuttle through the night-shaded undergrowth as their parents call to them from the sea.

These seabirds also once played an important role in the diet of the Haida people and the colonies were once prime food gathering places.

Devastated by rats

The birds have long since abandoned many rat-infested islands.

Rats, first introduced to Haida Gwaii with the advent of maritime shipping in the late 1700s, are known to occur on at least 18 islands throughout the archipelago and have had a devastating effect on several seabird colonies.

Restoring habitat

Phase one: 2011

In 2011, Parks Canada, the Haida Nation, Island Conservation and Coastal Conservation implemented a ground-based eradication of invasive Norway rats from Arichika and Bischof Islands, once home to significant ancient murrelet colonies. This work was supported by Parks Canada’s Action-on-the-Ground program which funds ecological restoration across Canada’s national parks and by the US Coast Guard’s Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund – a fund set up to offset the damage done to seabirds by a sunken oil tanker, the S.S. Jacob Lukenbach, which went down in 1953 off the coast of California.

The Bischof Islands with Lyell Island in the background
The Bischof Islands with Lyell Island in the background

  • In 2011, field crews implemented a three month eradication effort. This operation involved using a rodenticide in the specialized stations, daily monitoring and the manual removal of rat carcasses on Bischof and Arichika Islands.
  • The good news is that Arichika Island has been declared rat-free. While the eradication on the Bischof Islands was also successful, several rats have been detected recently. It is believe that these rats have re-invaded from a neighbouring island or from elsewhere.
  • Scientists managed for the possibility that other species could have been affected by the eradication, and reported very few impacts on other species and no population-level impacts.

Phase two: 2013

In September 2013, an aerial eradication took place on Murchison and Faraday Islands (two larger islands within the park reserve). The work is a collaboration between Parks Canada and the Haida Nation, and its partners Coastal Conservation and Island Conservation. In addition, Parks Canada drew on technical expertise from international experts in New Zealand and Mexico and received financial contribution from the US National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – a non-governmental, charitable body established by the US Congress.

Murchison and Faraday Islands are located within the Juan Perez Sound, an area that includes islands which are recognized internationally for their globally outstanding seabird populations (Ancient Murrelets, Cassin’s auklets) and other seabird (Leach’s storm-petrels, Fork-tailed storm-petrels) and shorebird species.

Murchison and Faraday Islands are close to Ramsay Island, which is currently rat-free, and hence removal of rats here is necessary to reduce risk of rat invasion to these nearby intact seabird colonies.

Aerial eradication

Helicopter with bait bucket
Aerial eradication over the islands 

The eradication of invasive rats from Murchison and Faraday Islands involves an aerial broadcast of bait containing a rodenticide dispensed by helicopter, very similar to aerial seeding applications used in forest management or agricultural applications. This is proven conservation management technique has been used extensively in New Zealand, Mexico, the United States and the Galapagos to remove rats from islands and restore native species.

Continued monitoring

Native species are already responding to the absence of rats. Populations of native shrews on Arichika and Bischofs islands are already at levels comparable to islands without rats.

Black oystercatchers, shorebirds which are considered by scientists to be sentinel species that respond quickly to changes in ecosystem health, are increasing in numbers and are fledging more chicks in the absence of rats. Automated acoustic listening devices have been deployed on these islands and on unaffected islands to measure seabird response to the eradication.

Scientists will study the frequency and distribution of the birds’ calls to gauge project success, as well as monitor a number of other ecosystem responses. In coming years, restoration techniques such as call play-backs may be employed to encourage the birds to re-colonize these islands.

In 2016, thanks to continued monitoring Murchison and Faraday Islands were declared rat free. Through the use and analysis of automated acoustic listening devices, a six per cent increase in the calls of Ancient Murrelets on both islands was observed.

Anecdotally, Gwaii Haanas field staff observed more shore crabs in the intertidal on both Murchison and Faraday, another indicator of less rats living on those islands.

Fall 2017 update

Active restoration of cultural and ecological integrity in Gwaii Haanas is a priority for the Archipelago Management Board: the Council of the Haida Nation and Government of Canada (Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada). And through partnership and efforts by both Gwaii Haanas and many international organisations, we were able to rid Murchison, Faraday and Arichika of black rats.

In September 2017, biosecurity cameras set to detect small mammals on Murchison/Faraday Islands showed evidence of Norway rats on these islands.  These rats are new to the islands.  There continues to be no evidence of black rats.  To figure out where these Norway rats have come from, we are analyzing the data we’ve captured through our monitoring program, including  acoustic recording units, a summer of field observations  remote camera monitoring.

In addition, since the incursion, Gwaii Haanas field team members have set up additional remote cameras on the Murchison and Faraday and are trapping rats using bait. Thanks to previous work with the UBC Okanagan (UBCO) genetics lab, we are running genetics analysis on rats from across the Haida Gwaii archipelago. Rats were trapped in the fall of 2017 and DNA samples to the UBCO lab to determine where the Norway rats on Murchison and Faraday are from.