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Monique Keiran: Birds garner more votes than politicians

The robin chicks outside my window disappeared last night. At about 4 a.m., much rustling of shrubberies and great squawkings occurred. When I poked my head outside, the three nearly grown babies had vanished.

The robin chicks outside my window disappeared last night. At about 4 a.m., much rustling of shrubberies and great squawkings occurred. When I poked my head outside, the three nearly grown babies had vanished.

For three weeks, the daily charting of the chicks’ progress was a household highlight. Their sudden, tragic loss has taken us all aback, bringing forth long faces and even a sniff or two.

They no doubt became breakfast for an intrepid raccoon.

While Ma Robin built her nest, brooded eggs and stuffed bugs into gaping young beaks, our neighbours on the mainland elected Vancouver’s newest winged poster child. More than 700,000 people voted in the five-week-long popularity contest for Official City Bird of 2015. More than one-third of voters backed the black-capped chickadee over five other contenders.

Several things about the contest astonish me:

• Fewer than 115,000 people voted in Vancouver’s last municipal election. This month’s turnout for birds suggests that combining civic and bird ballots might be a solution in overcoming voter apathy.

• Although the contest was for the City of Vancouver’s bird of 2015, the vote engaged more people than officially live in Vancouver. According to B.C. Stats, only 641,000 people reside within city boundaries. If the campaign had occurred under Elections Act rules, the discrepancy would indicate Vancouver’s Bird Week contest involved fraud to rival Pierre Poutine’s 2011 antics. The Anna’s hummingbird, varied thrush, pacific wren, pileated woodpecker and northern flicker would be within their rights to demand a new vote. They could insist on electoral reform — tougher rules, stricter enforcement and even oversight by independent observers.

• The turnout indicates ongoing and pervasive passion about birds. Twenty years ago, birding was proclaimed to be “one of the fastest-growing hobbies in Canada,” alongside gardening and genealogy. Today, most newspapers have discontinued their world-of-birds pages. Gardening and genealogy clubs have flourished, while the number of birding clubs has remained steady.

Yet, this year, in one of Canada’s largest urban centres, almost three-quarters of a million people discussed birds, tweeted about birds, championed birds and went bird wing-nutty for five weeks.

• The numbers provide opportunity to compare two two-legged animals and how we view population growth in each. The bird-contest voters equal about one-third of the human population of the Greater Vancouver area and slightly more than the region’s total number of human females of breeding age. (Current North American Homo sapiens mating and breeding patterns confound casual population-based breeding-pair estimates. Furthermore, the annual Lower Mainland Christmas People Watch tends to focus on plumage and consumption, not reproductivity — and thank goodness for that. Number of breeding-age females represents current reproductive potential — to wit, to woo.)

While those human numbers might interest demographers, economists and the ilk, people who frequent the Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Burns Bog, Stanley Park and Boundary Bay are fascinated instead by the number of breeding pairs of birds nesting there each spring, as well as by the number of chicks that result.

• The Pacific wren received only 6,800 votes. How can this be? How can anyone hear the shy little wren’s lilting, liquid melodies, so evocative of towering Pacific forests, foggy coastlines and sun-dappled, fern-banked streams, and not fall instantly under its spell? And against the black-capped chickadee, of all species! That chickadee isn’t even native to the south coast.

But where chicks — and chickadees — are concerned, emotions often overcome sense. Chicks and chickadees rule the roost.

At least, until wily raccoons come a-roaming.

• If Victoria, city or region, were to hold a bird-of-the-year campaign, how many votes would be cast? Would we demonstrate as much interest in our winged friends as our mainland neighbours have?

And what species would we select to contend for the title? And why those species? Send me your suggestions.

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