Conservator » Environment » Delicate Balance

Delicate Balance

Nothing heralds the arrival of spring like the sights and sounds of wildlife. Canadians are fortunate to share their environment with a diversity of wild species.


Populations of many species of plants, animals and insects are healthy and secure, but a growing number of them are in trouble. Habitat loss, climate change and environmental contaminants are among the reasons for their decline.

Some species are listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) and/or by provincial laws. And before they’re listed, they’re evaluated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which includes experts from governments, universities and non-government organizations across the country.

Wetlands, grasslands, boreal forest areas and other natural spaces conserved through the work of Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and its partners support many of these species at risk for all or part of their life cycles.

British Columbia: Burrowing Owl

COSEWIC designation: Endangered
SARA status: Endangered
B.C. Wildlife Act: Endangered

Burrowing owls have been successfully reintroduced at two DUC wetland restoration projects in southern British Columbia, where they can take advantage of abundant food and habitat protection provided.

Alberta: Northern Leopard Frog

COSEWIC designation: Special Concern
SARA status: Special Concern
Alberta Wildlife Act: Threatened

DUC’s Prince’s Spring project in southern Alberta attracts a large number of migrant waterbirds and shorebirds. It also offers valuable habitat for northern leopard frogs – once the most widespread frog species in North America. The frogs overwinter in the springs that feed water into the project’s two wetlands. As a safe breeding site, Prince’s Spring is a source of northern leopard frog eggs used for reintroduction efforts around the province.

Saskatchewan: Whooping Crane

COSEWIC designation: Endangered
SARA status: Endangered

These magnificent birds – the tallest in North America – have a grueling 3,900-kilometre migration between Alberta and the Texas coast each year. Their spring and fall flight paths take them diagonally across Saskatchewan, where they rest in various wetlands, such as the DUC project at Last Mountain Lake, and on various upland projects around marshes.

Manitoba: Small White Lady’s Slipper

COSEWIC designation: Threatened
SARA status: Endangered
Manitoba Wildlife Act: Endangered

This unique and beautiful orchid is known for its white, sac-like lower petal (or “slipper”). Small white lady’s-slippers have lost much of their native habitat due to the loss of original tall-grass prairies. By conserving grasslands where waterfowl nest in Manitoba, DUC is helping to save critical habitat for this species, which is key to its recovery.

Ontario: Bobolink

COSEWIC designation: Threatened
SARA status: No status
Ontario Species At Risk Act: Threatened

Grasslands are habitat for a range of wildlife, including this threatened songbird. In Ontario, DUC outsources technical expertise through its Restoration Services program to developers requiring habitat compensation for proposed projects that cause a loss of grasslands. In 2015, DUC planted 60 acres (24.2 hectares) of native grassland at the Hullett Provincial Wildlife Area to replace the habitat impacted by a renewable energy (solar) project. Grassland projects like this benefit bobolink, enhance biodiversity and generate revenue that DUC can reinvest into wetland conservation initiatives.

Quebec: Least Bittern

COSEWIC designation: Endangered
SARA status: Endangered
Quebec Act Respecting Threatened/Vulnerable Species: Protected

Least bitterns prefer large marshes with somewhat stable water levels throughout the nesting period. Some of these ideal breeding habitats are located in DUC’s restored wetland sites on the St. Lawrence River corridor and along the Ottawa River. The Nicolet Marsh project, on the south shore of Lac Saint-Pierre, is home to a significant population of bitterns in Quebec.

Newfoundland & Labrador: Boreal Woodland Caribou

COSEWIC designation: Threatened
SARA status: Threatened

DUC’s goal in Canada’s boreal forest is to conserve sufficient habitat to sustain healthy populations of waterfowl and other wildlife – like the boreal woodland caribou – by supporting a balance of established protected areas and sustainable land use activities. The DUC-partnered Upper Humber Wetlands Complex in Newfoundland and Labrador provides wintering habitat for the threatened boreal woodland caribou.

Leigh Patterson

Leigh Patterson

Leigh Patterson is editor of Conservator.

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