Wings Brushing Boughs: Stads K’un named Haida Gwaii’s national bird

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Photo: Anna Hesser

Rhonda Lee McIsaac —

Pinpointing a stads k’un goshawk and its nest is a challenge, but it’s one that Robert Kennedy, Gerry Morigeau and the Cultural Features Identification (CFI) crews have taken on in the old growth forests of Haida Gwaii. In particular, the CFI crews have been busy the past couple of years at St’alaa Kun Collison Point and across the inlet from Gaaw conducting audits that include watching out for this elusive bird.

“One day we had sightings of a stads k’un throughout the day – saw it, and heard its call. I recorded it and was able to play it later for Gerry Morigeau and he told me it was a juvenile stads k’un. This meant that the nest stand had to be nearby – within several hundred metres,” Robert Kennedy stated. The sighting was mid-August and Morigeau knew that the stads k’un would have just fledged from a nearby nest.

CFI crews made a few more trips to the area to find the actual nest and the stads k’un was sighted every time but the nest not located. Nests can be very difficult to find admits Robert Kennedy. “We will go back next year starting in March, as that is when stads k’un will return to the nest,” he said.

Stads k’un nest in mature k’aang hemlock and kayd spruce. Signs include ‘whitewash’, pellets, bones and feathers found directly beneath their nests.

Genetic research shows Haida Gwaii stads k’un have been isolated from mainland populations since at least the last ice age.

Since 1995, nest-monitoring data has found that stads k’un prey mainly on medium sized forest birds like woodpeckers, daasGa Red squirrel, skaw grouse, t’in Varied thrush, waterfowl, and sea-birds like the Marbled murrelet and merganser. The BC Game Commission introduced six DaasGa from Sayward Forest near Campbell River to Haida Gwaii at Daajing Giids in 1950.

“Obviously, the dynamics of prey species has changed a lot over time and some of the native species like skaw and murrelet have declined dramatically during the last 100 years,” states Gerry Morigeau. “Stads k’un have readily adjusted their diet to take advantage of the plentiful daasGa. DaasGa however, are likely having an impact on many of the other prey species for stads k’un as they, in turn, are known to predate song bird nests. Nothing is simple or straightforward in nature.”

In their search of mature forests, the CFI crew found several bird-kill sites – further proof of stads k’un in the area.

Finding nests takes time. Crews made several attempts throughout two-years before locating a nest in St’alaa Kun Collison Point this past summer. To protect the nest the surrounding area is now a designated forest reserve.

All 21 known nests on Haida Gwaii have been found in old growth forest. While several other stads k’un likely maintain territories in Protected Areas – surveyors do not know how many live there. Consequently the Haida Nation doesn’t know whether stads k’un populations are high enough to maintain a breeding population.

The threat of extinction to stads k’un is immense considering the history of logging on Haida Gwaii. Logging, and particularly large-scale clearcutting that companies practiced before the Haida Gwaii Land Use Objectives Orders (HGLUOO), has had a large impact on the most productive forest lands through the middle of Haida Gwaii known as the Skidegate Plateau. Historically the best stads k’un habitat grew in the plateau, which has been heavily logged over the past 90 years, fragmenting the landscape.

Data has shown that 40-60 percent of a stads k’un foraging area needs to be mature-old growth forest in order for a breeding territory to persist. Large areas of Moresby and Graham islands are now covered with second-growth that is too young to support stads k’un. Under the HGLUOO stads k’un nest sites receive a legal 200-hectare reserve.

“That sounds like a lot but when you consider that stads k’un foraging areas on Haida Gwaii average 7,000-11,000 hectares, it may not be enough,” says Morigeau.

Although there are 21 known nest territories, very few are active in a given year (1 or 2 on average) and this has been the case for several years, indicating their population in trouble, Morigeau says.

To add further stress the HGLUOO contains no provisions to manage stads k’un territories within the recommended threshold of 40-60 percent old growth. The orders also do not require licensees to inventory or monitor stads k’un in their tenures. No monitoring took place at any known nest sites last year.

In 2017 CHN conducted the only stads k’un surveys. Haida surveyors investigated two sightings that originated from their own crews. Parks Canada also monitored three known nests on Tllga Kun Gwaay.yay Lyell Island. In 2016 crews monitored 16 known nests. None of them showed evidence of breeding.

Other factors contributing to the birds’ decline include ecological impacts from introduced species such as k’aad deer and gwiiguu raccoon, and potentially from climate change, says Morigeau. Stads k’un reproduce slowly compared to their mainland cousins, he says. Nest on Haida Gwaii usually contain one or two chicks, while nests elsewhere average two to four chicks. Additionally, chicks suffer a mortality rate of 75 percent in their first two years. Mortality from conflicts with poultry farmers take further tolls on the local stads k’un population.

Morigeau says they don’t know how many stads k’un are left on Haida Gwaii but population models from 2007 suggested a range of 4 – 18 active territorial pairs at the time. Assuming an equal population of non-breeding birds lives in Haida Gwaii, their total population might lie somewhere between 16 – 72 birds.

The number of known and breeding pairs on Haida Gwaii is of serious concern to many. Haida Citizens brought the issue to the Haida Nation’s annual House of Assembly this year. The House unanimously endorsed a resolution to develop an Islands-based recovery strategy that includes monitoring inventories of potential habitat, habitat recruitment and restoration, introduced species mitigation, and proper foraging habitat management to ensure this unique forest species survives. And in even bigger news, the House voted to make stads k’un the national bird of Haida Gwaii!

1 Comment

mario veldhuis · January 7, 2018 at 5:21 pm

I have witnessed and documented a Goshawk sighting in Copper Bay , Moresby Island. This Goshawk has been seen for the past week by myself and others. I read with great interest your story of the goshawk and the naming of this bird as the national bird of Haida Gwaii. The survival of the goshawk, for one, seems to be linked to old/older growth Hemlock and Spruce forests. Forest, described in the former, are just coming into an age of maturity. The witness of a goshawk in Copper Bay, would seem to indicate that forests here are finally at a point of suitably mature trees and within the closed canopy features, desired by the Goshawk. Logging companies here, including Taan Forests Ltd. and BCTS (bcts are within days of starting to log a large amount of potential goshawk forests here on moresby island), are in the process of proposing to log an amount of the above mentioned forests in excess of the 40- 60 % retention rate indicated as a threshold for Goshawk survival needs. Here on Moresby island, we do not even have one confirmed Goshawk nest (neither for the Saw-whet owl) or reserve zone and the LUOO, as it stands, has no provisions for recruiting Goshawk areas, even with all reserve zones needed by LUOO rules. If the CHN is serious about the survival of the Goshawk here on Haida Gwaii, then it would take immediate action in the logging practices here on island, before even more potential maturing older growth Hemlock and Spruce forests are removed from the landscape. The LUOO is as inadequate in the survival needs of the Goshawk, as it is for true biodiversity. The reserve zones for wildlife will show itself in the future to be inadequate to support the goshawk population and all other threatened species endemic to Haida Gwaii. Setting aside token areas for wildlife, while seriously affecting the surrounding forest with the practice of clearcutting, seems like mere self pacification for known wrongs we still perpetuate since the age of colonialism. The saving of the Goshawk as a living species, would do much to prove the determination of the Haida people and residents to protect the land. Even on the Taan website and seemingly with the support of the CHN , there is a heading of “Protecting Our Land”, were we are all to be convinced that “WE” are doing the best to mitigate land degradation by following the rules. True protection of “OUR” land would entail going above and beyond the rules. It would mean that if highly trained and educated biologists cannot locate nest sites for Goshawks or Saw-whet owls, then the first assumption should be made that perhaps these bird populations are too low at an overall landscape and habitat level to register. In the case of threatened biodiversity, if we do not find “threatened wildlife” signs ie. nests in proposed logging areas then we should assume that the species is not recovered enough to support the idea of clearcut. It seems true due diligence in a recovery strategy for the Goshawk would entail a moratorium of clearcut logging until we have established and recognized more nest sites and instituted reserve zones. At the moment, we look for nests , if we do not find any we clearcut. This leaves no alternate areas for Goshawk habitat recruitment outside the dictated reserve zones, which we have already established is not adequate to support Haida Gwaii Goshawk survival. This will lead to extirpation of the Goshawk. Greater than all the above mentioned factors is the fact that “Rainforest” are called rainforests because they create their own climate, it is a proven fact. Deforestation into fragmented landscapes of unnatural disturbances(clearcut logging) destroys the forests ability to maintain the micro climates and therefore all associated biodiversity supported by that micro climate. In short and harsh, it all fine filters out to this, keep logging the status quo way, then lose all biodiversity in the future!

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