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New field guide for local birds

Bird-watching may seem like a refined specialty only tailored to those with infinite patience and pro-grade binoculars, but that isn’t always the case. There are more than a handful of species that can be spotted out and about or even right in your backyard. 

The Kanien’kehà:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR) and the Kahnawà:ke Environment Protection Office (KEPO) created a new field guide for birds around town. 

Earlier this month, the guides were distributed to several schools, the library, the Iakwahwatsiratátie Language Nest, and Step By Step Child and Family Center among other community organizations. 

Although the guide caters to youth, it can be used by anyone interested in birding – the observation and identification of birds in their natural habitat as a leisurely passtime. The 44-page booklet offers tips on bird-watching and protecting bird populations, all while listing some of the most common threats to their existence.

“If we could ignite some interest in the youth in birding and just being aware of the birds that they share the community with, then we can ignite their interest in protecting those,” said Julie Delisle, environmental education liaison at KEPO. 

The team at KEPO selected 10 birds to include in the booklet, ones that are easily spotted around the community to facilitate the identification process for those using the guide. 

Delisle stressed that bird populations have severely been declining over the past several years, loss of habitat and climate change being some of the most prominent threats. 

Since 1970, a loss of nearly three billion birds across North America was reported in a 2019 study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Aside from being an educational tool teaching the youth about wildlife protection and bird populations, this field guide also helps revitalize Kanien’kéha, being the first-ever guide fully translated into the language.

“It’s to aid in the learning of the language as well; our language is so tied to the natural world,” Delisle explained. 

It serves as language support by reviving parts of the vocabulary that aren’t often used – in the case, terminology that pertains to birds.

Speaking Kanien’kéha at home is crucial to preserving the language, according to Marion Delaronde, coordinator of the project at the KOR. 

“What is also important is seeing it reflected in different areas of your life and that could come from characters on TV or comic books you’re reading or that the media and the rest of the world are also celebrating your language with you,” she said.

The booklet is narrated by a character named Kanonwakéntstha who also appears in the KOR’s puppet show Tóta tánon Ohkwá:ri. As an environmental technician, she is able to shed light on the current situation of wildlife and also provide a culturally-oriented perspective in terms of encouraging environmental stewardship. “We’re happy to present a character like that to the community,” said Delaronde.

Leafing through the guide, one will find colourful illustrations woven through the text. For graphic artist Skarahkotà:ne Deom, this project merged her interests of digital art and the identification and study of animals, including birds. 

“I see a lot of potential in using visuals as a means of communication, so that’s what I’ve always been interested in,” said Deom who’s already worked on similar informational guides.

She explained this initiative gave her the opportunity to draw more attention to endangered songbirds. “That’s where I wanted to apply my skills and show people how beautiful these creatures are,” she said.

Making glass windows bird-safe by adding markers or paint to break up the transparency is one of the solutions to diminishing the avian loss of birds. 

“We’re just reminding youth that we need to respect our habitat around us, reduce pollution, protect the areas around our homes, and encourage others to do that as well,” said Delisle.

Anyone interested in further learning about birds or hosting a workshop related to environment preservation is encouraged to reach out to KEPO to collaborate. 

Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.