The Final Blow

Photo by June Hunter

I promised myself I was done being angry about the removal of the Notre Dame poplars. It’s been a year since the City granted permission for Notre Dame School to go ahead with their artificial turf stadium and remove the trees, so I’ve had twelve months to prepare. I did feel prepared.

But now they’re taking the trees down during nesting season!!!

I would have thought this would be a clear and hard “no” from the City permit people, since the Migratory Bird Convention Act (1994) makes it illegal to disturb the nests of breeding native birds. To my horror, it seems it’s pretty easy to get around this.

It was only this Saturday we received an email from the school to let us know that they plan to start work in the next couple of weeks, beginning with “tree work.” They had already hired a “registered biologist” to assess the presence of nesting birds.

Apparently the biologist submitted his report to the City Arborist yesterday and the cutting permit (valid for only 48 hours) has been given. We can expect the cutting to begin any moment.

The biologist did find a couple of small nests in the lower branches of two trees, so they will be omitted from the falling for a few weeks pending further inspection. If we wish to see the actual report, we need to submit a Freedom of Information Request.

The thing is, I’m certain there are FAR MORE than a couple of low nests in all 20+ of those tall poplars.

Photo by June Hunter

Right now, finding a small nest in those trees would be like a game of 3-D moving Where’s Waldo, in which Waldo is not wearing a striped sweater and red hat, and is actively trying to remain hidden.

The trees are up to 70 feet tall and currently covered in a dense and dancing canopy of leaves. Here, in some rather bad video camera work, I pan down just one of the trees, using a zoom lens. The aim is to give you an idea of how hard it would be to spot an individual small nest.

Why do I think there are nests in those trees?

While I’m not a registered biologist, I have lived next to these trees for 29 years, and spend countless hours closely watching the trees and the local birds.

In years gone by it’s been easy to spot crows’ nests — partly because of their larger size, but mainly because they get a very early start, before the leaves are out.

Marvin and Mavis

Marvin and Mavis, spring 2019

Ironically, there are no crows’ nests in the poplars this spring. Perhaps it’s because they were smart enough to read the City permit signs last year! More likely, it’s because there were too many hungry bald eagles using the poplars as a baby crow buffet.

I am, however, sure that the poplars ARE currently hosting many other smaller birds’ nests right now.

For example, one small ornamental plum tree in front of our house is currently hosting a bushtit and a Northern Flicker nest. If there are at least two nests in that one tiny tree, how many could we estimate to be in the spacious poplars?

Northern Flicker in Nest

The poplars could accommodate nests of many species, from cavity nesters like the flickers, downy woodpeckers and black capped chickadees to other birds like bushtits, sparrows and robins.

This white crowned sparrow flew out of the poplars this morning and landed on the school fence. His, coincidentally, is one of the nests the biologist found in the lower branches. Northern Flickers and other species’ nests would be much higher up and really hard, if not impossible to spot.

Photo by June Hunter

I’d have thought that much better way to assess how many nests are likely in the poplars would be to look at the local and current range of bird species,* and look at the nesting potential in the poplars and make a fair occupancy estimate from that. 

Unfortunately, that’s not the way things are to go, so I am waiting here, tensed for the sound of chainsaws.

Like this baby house finch in my garden, I’m  a bit beyond words at this point.

Sleeping Raccoon

Raccoon snoozing in the poplars in happier days.

*Bird species currently in our immediate neighbourhood: Robins, Anna’s Hummingbird, White Crowned Sparrows, Song sparrows, Golden Crowned Sparrows, Black Capped Chickadees, Juncoes, Bushtits, Northern Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, Wilsons’s Warblers, Violet Green Swallows, Crows, House Finches, Goldfinches, Pine Siskins … these are the ones I can think of just off the top of my head.


For background on the history of this project and the neighbourhood campaign against it see Notre Dame Neighbours, in particular the timeline of events that led us here.

27 thoughts on “The Final Blow

  1. Hiring a registered biologist that is willing to give the stamp is how these kind of projects roll these days… and it’s really unethical. These biologists should be government employees and not for hire and therefore beholden to those who are paying.
    I really feel your frustration, June!

  2. I sympathize with you over this destruction. I am saddened by all the destruction “humans” have inflicted upon the earth and we don’t seem to know to stop. I enjoy your website and mourn with you this loss of natural life and habitat.

  3. I’m so sorry, June. You did everything you possibly could to head this situation off. Thank you for your advocacy for the birds and other critters.

  4. Likewise, I’m horrified and saddened by this but not at all surprised. Years ago when we heard Discovery Park in Burnaby was about to developed there was an outcry to save the park. We were told that experts said that there were few or no birds (can’t remember which) in the Park. We were astounded as you only had to take a short walk in the woodlands to see so much wildlife. Anyway, all the trees were ripped out and an electronics gaming company built a huge campus there. We were so sad about this; a huge loss to the creatures living there and to the community.

  5. June, oh no! I’ve been deep in denial, I guess. Poor trees, birds, neighbourhood. Sickening. Your crows will be so upset. Allison. Xx

    Sent from my iPad


  6. I have so many mixed emotions about the entire situation… outraged, heartsick, furious… but, you have done as much as you can do. I am crying with you for such a loss! I don’t think that I will have much else weighing so heavily on my mind and heart.

  7. June, a couple things. Did you contact Rob Butler for any advice? Environment Canada is the federal department that oversees the Migratory Birds Act. Like the Fisheries Act, which they also oversee, I’m not sure if they might be of help. But they should definitely be alerted, as one would alert them to any contravention of the Fisheries Act. The federal Migratory Birds Act, like the Fisheries Act, is quite powerful legislation. I wasn’t sure if crows would fall under it, but it’s worth checking out. Plus, if it’s not under Env Canada’s purview, then it would definitely fall under the provincial Ministry of Environment. The school should most definitely NOT be cutting these trees down during nesting season. And this should be stopped. Like you, I’m also appalled They probably figure during CV-19, they can pull this off and get away with it. If you want to check with some of the above, and I can try to make a call to Env Canada tomorrow at my end.

  8. I am so outraged and sad for the Birds, the neighbourhood, you, and all humans. It’s appalling.

  9. This would fall under the BC Wildlife Act. Does the school have their permit from the BC Ministry of Environment to remove these trees?

    Here is the section from the Act:

    Bird Nesting
    BIRDS, EGGS AND NEST TREES ARE PROTECTED BY LAW. Section 34 of the B.C. Wildlife Act is the law that provides year-round protection to birds’ nests:
    A person commits an offence if the person, except as provided by regulation, possesses, takes, injures, molests or destroys
    (a) a bird or its egg,
    (b) the nest of an eagle, peregrine falcon, gyrfalcon, osprey, heron or burrowing owl, or
    (c) the nest of a bird not referred to in paragraph (b) when the nest is occupied by a bird or its egg.

    If you wish to remove or modify nest trees, you must seek permission and obtain a written permit from the Ministry of Environment’s Permit & Authorization Service Bureau AND you should check with Environment Canada to see if a federal permit is required under the Migratory Birds Convention Act regulations.

    For more information please view our Best Management Practices.

    How about a call to the media, CBC, etc… to try to get them out to stall things. The city’s crows are always big news, there might be interest. And the thing to do is demand to see the school’s (or the contractor there on site) permit issued the by BC Ministry of Environment, which they would require in this case, moving at nesting time. I’m certain this must be illegal at this time. I would think it is within your right to demand to see their permit from the BC Ministry of Environment.

  10. This honestly turns my stomach. It seems that the city’s staff are full of corrupt deceitful people who don’t care about the environment or wildlife. How could a registered Biologist say it’s ok to cut down those trees during nesting season? Did they get paid to say that? This is completely unethical. We need to demand better!

  11. I’m sorry to hear this. Not only is it terrible for the birds, it also means more noise, light and people in the area which has a (negative) effect on humans, too. And really, when will there be games to be played with an audience in a stadium again, so what’s the rush? Certainly not before a vaccine (if one is even found).

  12. I am so, so sorry. This makes me feel sick to my stomach. But it is a scene that I have seen played out in my neighbourhood in Surrey BC over and over again in the 24 years we have lived here. The developers are given carte blanche by the city to destroy acres upon acres of mature forested land that is the home of countless species of wildlife in order to build monster houses on tiny lots that have no room to plant anything but the smallest of maple trees. And then the homeowners just rip those new trees out, or neglect to water them so that they shrivel and die. And they always seem to clear the land during nesting season here, too. I used to call and complain to the city, but my protests fell on deaf ears and I finally just gave up. I wish I could do something to save your poplars. 🙁

  13. More rape, pillage and plunder of our most precious resource. It is appalling, and was unnecessary at this time. NO tree work should be allowed until there are no leaves on the trees. Period. You’ve given so much to this project and I understand your grief. Be kind to yourself, you put up one helluva battle!

  14. Hi June, I wanted to say that I have stood with you on this from the beginning. The trees should remain intact. We see projects all over the city where efforts are made to work around trees. It’s infuriating that it isn’t being done for this project. “Progress” vs. Nature. Sensitive urban ecosystems need to take priority. I agree 100%, they should have waited until after nesting season. If only the City had recommended The Biologist and Arbourist speak with you, as a concerned party, and someone who knows the activity of neighbourhood bird population so well. The City knows you! I hope you can take comfort in the fact that you fought for the birds tooth and nail. You are remarkable! Have you considered running for City Council? Warmest wishes, Corinne

  15. This is just WRONG! Media involvement would be worth a try . Thanks for being such a great advocate for our natural urban environment.

  16. Is there no way to get a more accurate estimate of the nesting birds? With just one biologist it’s like having a jury of one. Have you tried to appeal to the appropriate civic and provincial authorities? Thanks for the gorgeous hummingbird earrings by the way!

  17. Heartbreaking and so unnecessary. Sickened to hear this, June. I’ve been to your home a few times to pick up calendars and have always noticed those tall beautiful poplar trees – teeming with life and so stately looking. Those trees are a part of the neighborhood and a home and refuge for birds and other beings. We live in such a shallow greed based world – birds and other creatures give us so much joy and human beings continue to destroy their habitat. The City of Vancouver should be ashamed of themselves – rubber stamping a “report” re the number of birds’ nests – that has obviously downplayed the number of nests in those trees.

  18. I am so sorry to hear this. “Green” Vancouver is a joke. Concrete jungles and artificial turf are acceptable…as long as we have bike paths and the occasional “green roof”. We are killing our earth day by day.
    This news truly is a big blow to a delicate ecosystem.

  19. Pingback: Conditional Bird Love | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  20. Pingback: Chainsaw Timeline | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

Leave a Reply