One morning when Josianne Plante looked out the window, she was surprised to see a pair of large wild bare-headed turkeys walking around her neighborhood in eastern Montreal.
“They were walking down the street and on the sidewalk as if nothing was happening,” said the Pointe-aux-Trembles resident in a recent interview.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before here. “
While countries around the world are stranded due to COVID-19, many people report seeing more wild animals, and Canada is no exception.
David Rodrigue, executive director of the Ecomuseum zoo in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, says there has been a slight increase in sightings of common urban species such as skunks, raccoons, white-tailed deer, rabbits and foxes in the greater Montreal area since the start of the pandemic.
He said that fewer vehicles and quieter streets and parks likely mean that normally shy animals roam more freely.
“This decreases the pressure of disturbance on these animals, which seem to roam more,” he said.
Rodrigue said that for the most part, the animals noticed are those that were already present in the city, although turkeys are an exception.
“It is a very wary species and difficult to approach,” he said.
“The fact that some of them have entered urban areas speaks volumes about the effect of the reduced number of people walking around. “
He said he heard reports of birds flocking in large numbers to normally busy areas, including the Old Port of Montreal.
Surprisingly perhaps, the coyotes, which have made headlines in Montreal in recent years, have not been seen in greater numbers. Most often spotted? Rats.
According to James Page of the Canadian Wildlife Federation, more and more wildlife sightings are happening across Canada.
Page said 15,000 new sightings were reported in the first days of April on inaturalist.ca, an online database that allows citizens to enter their observations of plants and animals, compared to 9,500 for the same period last year.
But Page, a specialist in endangered species and biodiversity, says it is too early to speak of a “renaissance” of cities or a rebound in nature.
He said that while the animals are likely to be more visible, part of the increase is likely due to the fact that people are staying at home due to the pandemic and are therefore more likely to spot wildlife.
Marie-Eve Muller, spokesperson for the Quebec Marine Mammal Research and Education Group, said it was too early to know if a reduction in marine traffic could have a positive impact on marine mammals.
She said that maritime traffic in the St. Lawrence River has not decreased so far, but a reduction in pleasure boats and whale watching could be beneficial for whales, which are known to be disturbed by engine noise and vibration.
Page and Rodrigue said it remains to be seen whether there will be a lasting effect on animal populations.
In the short term, they say that fewer disturbances during the breeding season could allow some species to raise larger litters, while a reduction in vehicle traffic could reduce fatal collisions.
But Page said the human impact on animals is still huge, including roads and dams crossing their habitats.
Rodrigue and Page suggest that people keep garbage cans sealed and avoid feeding wild animals, which often causes them problems down the line.
But the two experts say seeing wildlife can offer people a rare bright spot in difficult times, and give us a little glimpse of what the world could look like with better living together.
“Maybe that can give us a break to think about our relationship with nature and what it might look like in the future,” said Page.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 19.