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The signs are unmistakable: robins singing and green shoots poking out of the garden. Spring is finally here. And Earth Day is just around the corner, which is what got me started on this adventure.

Last April I was teaching my five-year old how to plant seeds and writing my first Wild City post.

Starting Wild City was our family’s Earth Day action for 2013. We decided to reconnect with nature – here in the city – all year long. And it has been wonderful! We have seen migrating birds held in researchers’ hands at the Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station, watched hundreds of Chimney Swifts spiral into a chimney in the heart of downtown Toronto, come face-to-face with owls — and even watched the salmon run in Scarborough. Reading back over these posts reveals a rich and rewarding year.

There are a number of great campaigns to encourage people to take action in 2014. Earth Day Canada is asking people to make it count for Earth Day this April and EcoKids is again running its Act for the Planet campaign. This year, for me — as is often the case — a child’s question cultivated an idea.

“Mami, why does grandma talk so much about Blue Jays? She doesn’t watch birds like us.”



My six-year old Ray was commenting on my mom’s tendency to be watching sports when we visit. She loves the Toronto Jays — and with spring comes baseball season. This got me wondering: What if people cared as much about city wildlife as they did about the teams that this wildlife represents?

I did not come up with this idea on my own; it’s from this insightful article by Richard Conniff. What would it be like, Conniff wonders, if rather than “jousting over meaningless contests between teams that are merely named for wildlife” (the Blue Jays vs. the Cardinals) cities competed over biodiversity?

“Just imagine,” he writes, “if mayors had to go toe-to-toe over the real thing – ‘My city is a better place for birds, butterflies, and people to live.’ That would be a competition worth watching.” No offense, sports fans, but I agree.

But if cities are to compete over biodiversity they need to be able to measure it. Dr. Lena Chan of the National Biodiversity Centre of the National Parks Board in Singapore agrees. She talks more about how they are doing it in Singapore (and around the world) during her talk at the 2012 World Cities Summit.

So this year’s Earth Day action is to find out what people are doing to measure biodiversity in our Wild City. How do we know what lives here? How do we know who passes though? What areas do different species use? How do we know whether our efforts to green the city are helping? It seems like a great way for our family to get to know the city more deeply.



So how are we measuring biodiversity in Toronto?

Finding out will take a while, but I scratched the surface by asking this question to Emily Rondel, Toronto Projects Coordinator for Bird Studies Canada.

“I don’t even know where to start!” was her enthusiastic answer. One example of Toronto trying to measure bird biodiversity is a study Emily ran with volunteers from the Toronto Ornithological Club (TOC) in summer 2013, looking at Toronto’s breeding birds. Despite our city’s appearance as a concrete jungle, nearly 200 different bird species have used Toronto’s habitats and resources to raise their young. “Birds truly share our city,” says Rondel.

Another great program that inventories all urban wildlife (not just birds) is the annual Bioblitz. Many city species ‘firsts’ have been catalogued through this event, even though it cannot fully inventory biodiversity because it takes place over a single weekend (not all species are detectable during that time).

We hope to join her this year. And that’s just the birds! We have our work cut out for us.



Join us. Earth Day 2014 is Tuesday, April 22. It’s not too late to get online and register your own action!

• Make it count for Earth Day this April

• Act for the Planet

• A Billion Acts of Green

Deborah M. Buehler is an ecologist, an editor and a writer in Toronto. Follow her and catch up on her Wild City posts.

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