Fire-station living might just be for the — protected — birds
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Protected birds that might be living in the chimney of a Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service station could complicate plans to sell off the building.
WFPS Chief Christian Schmidt said the service received a letter from the provincial government more than two years ago, noting chimney swifts — a protected species — were, at the time, calling Marion Street’s Station 9 home.
“What will be important down the road is, if we look to put that land for sale, then we’ll have to determine if those birds are still, in fact, living in the chimney,” said Schmidt.
Under its strategic plan, WFPS will combine Station 9 and Station 15 at the latter’s Autumnwood Drive site, where construction is expected to begin this year. Since Station 9 was not the chosen site for the consolidated structure, the project won’t be delayed. The birds also don’t affect current WFPS operations at the Marion Street station, the chief said.
WFPS will, however, need to inspect the affected chimney to determine if one or more of the birds are still present, he said.
“Of course, we want to do what’s best for the birds and the environment, so we will, in due course, contact the province and make sure we’re doing the proper things,” he said.
The chief said he’s not sure if the matter will create an extra cost or complicate efforts to sell off the building, the proceeds of which are expected to help pay for the strategic plan.
He noted there are cases where a property owner has demolished a building after carefully moving the chimney to protect the same type of bird.
The birds have been considered threatened in Canada under the Species at Risk Act since 2009 and estimates from Environment Canada project the chimney swift population has declined by as much as 95 per cent since the 1960s.
Some of the birds were known to be living inside the smoke stacks atop the former Grace Hospital at 200 Arlington St. The building was demolished in 2013 and a free-standing chimney was built on the property in the following years to temporarily replace the habitat.
The site is now home to the Old Grace Housing Co-operative, which opened in the spring of 2018. Designs for the building intentionally included a chimney to provide shelter for the birds.
In 2006, Nature Manitoba (formerly known as the Manitoba Naturalists Society) partnered with the municipal, provincial and federal governments to create the Manitoba Chimney Swift Initiative.
The volunteer group has erected artificial chimneys in Starbuck, St. Adolphe and Portage la Prairie. Towers also exist in Winnipeg within Assiniboine Park and at the Windsor Park golf course.
According to Nature Manitoba, chimney swifts in Manitoba can be found from Lac Du Bonnet to The Pas. They are migratory, and return to the province between May and August to breed.
The birds are typically very small, with dark gray or brown feathers and pale throats. They have a tube-shaped body and curved wings. Historically, they used large hollow trees for nesting but adapted to living within chimneys in urban environments during the arrival of European settlers.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.