A diminutive bird known for its shrill, high pitched call is threatening to derail one of Canada’s biggest music festivals after it built a nest in the same location as the main stage was slated to be erected.
The first hint of trouble for Ottawa’s Bluesfest, an outdoor festival that draws some 300,000 people each year in the nation’s capital, came last week after workers at the site stumbled across an agitated killdeer, a brown and white bird that weighs less than five ounces.
The bird – which enjoys protected status in Canada – had laid four speckled eggs on a cobblestone patch, effectively claiming the main stage area as its nesting grounds.
“This is one of the most challenging problems we’ve been presented with, but we feel we can work through this,” said Mark Monahan, the executive director of the festival, which is due to start on 5 July. “Anything that disrupts the schedule has a major effect, so we’re taking it very seriously.”
The discovery brought set up for the main stage to a standstill. Federal officials rushed to protect the nest and the eggs, hiring a security guard to watch over it 24 hours a day and cordoning off the area
with yellow tape.
Environmentalists – who noted that killdeer eggs generally need to be incubated for up to 26 days – were also brought in.
“We don’t know when the eggs might hatch,” said Monahan. What is known is that the young killdeer will likely leave the nest soon after they are hatched, leading many to hope that the eggs might hatch in the next day or so.
If that’s not the case and a solution can’t be found, he added, “then we’re faced with some delays that could start to snowball”.
The festival is now seeking permission from Environment Canada to relocate the nest some 50 metres away or take it to a wildlife centre, so that as many as 10 tractor trailers a day can continue to bring in equipment for the festival’s five stages.
Moving the nest would also ensure the bird and its young would be protected from stomping patrons during the festival’s 11-day run, said Monahan. “It is highly unlikely that the activity level – which will be tremendous in a week – would be conducive to the eggs or the bird continuing to be here.”
Monahan was confident that the festival, which features acts ranging from Bryan Adams to the Foo Fighters, would go on as planned. “Most of the people we’re working with … are looking for a positive solution,” Monahan said. “There is no one saying that the festival can’t go on.”
As news of the dilemma spread, it left residents divided. Some rallied behind the bird, named after its shrieking call that sounds like “kill deer”, worried that moving the nest might result in the eggs being abandoned.
Others expressed annoyance that the small plover, which is widespread across North America, was risking a festival that contributes more than C$30m annually to the local economy.
The killdeer’s propensity to build its nest in open fields or flat areas with little vegetation has caused a flap in other jurisdictions; earlier this year construction on a US$4m health center in Ladysmith, Wisconsin was temporarily halted after a killdeer and its clutch of four eggs were discovered.