Kenneth M. Molson Foundation renews funding for research on pesticides and songbirds

Bridget Stutchbury

Biology researcher Bridget Stutchbury in the Faculty of Science has received additional funding from the Kenneth M. Molson Foundation to continue her research on the impact of pesticides on migratory songbirds.

Stutchbury and her colleagues Christy Morrissey and Margaret Eng from the University of Saskatchewan published a study in Scientific Reports last year that discovered that songbirds became disoriented and could lose weight when they were exposed to widely used insecticides during migration pit stops on farmland. The research was partially funded by the Kenneth M. Molson Foundation, which has now committed an additional $56,000 over two years to continue this work.

Bridget Stuchbury looks at a small bird. She is standing in the middle of a forest.
Bridget Stutchbury

Songbirds travel long distances between their wintering and breeding grounds and stop along the way to rest and eat. If they stop on agricultural land, they may be exposed to insecticides by eating treated seeds, granules, or sprayed soils. The influence of these insecticides on birds is poorly understood, however.

In their study, Stutchbury and her team exposed white-crowned sparrows on spring migration to realistic doses of two different insecticides – imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid, and chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate – to observe the effects on migratory activity, orientation and body mass.

“What we found is that the sparrows given imidacloprid exhibited a rapid decline in their fat stores and body mass of up to 25 per cent and, even at low doses, both chemicals caused birds to become disoriented,” said Stutchbury.

The findings could help explain why songbird species associated with grassland and agricultural landscapes are experiencing severe population declines in North America.

“It appears that the Kenneth M. Molson Foundation was very pleased with the research we published,” says Stutchbury. “With the renewed funding, we will continue testing the effects of other widely used neonicotinoids on native bird species.”

The Kenneth M. Molson Foundation was started in 1968 by Kenneth M. Molson. Since then, the foundation has been a devoted supporter of aviation and wildlife community organizations in Canada.