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Ellis Bird Farm researches and celebrates the natural world

Ellis Bird Farm is doing important work. Located just outside of Lacombe and Blackfalds, Ellis Bird Farm is dedicated to educating,

Ellis Bird Farm is doing important work.

Located just outside of Lacombe and Blackfalds, Ellis Bird Farm is dedicated to educating, researching and celebrating the part the natural world plays in our society. Myrna Pearman, biologist at the Ellis Bird Farm, said that it is vital work for the future of humanity.

“The future of this civilization and this planet depends on people not forgetting that the earth provides our sustenance,” said Pearman. “If we don’t have healthy ecosystems, humanity is doomed.”

Ellis Bird Farm was established in 1982 to carry on the legacy of the brother-sister pair of conservationists Charlie and Winnie Ellis, said Pearman. When Union Carbide wanted to buy the farm from the aging Ellis siblings, Charlie and Winnie agreed to the sale on the condition that the new owners take care of their birds.

Union Carbide agreed and set up the Ellis Bird Farm.

Pearman said the farm is on a full section of land, 112 acres of which is public space and the rest is still a working farm. The facility is run by a volunteer board of directors with representation from Lacombe County, Nature Alberta, Red Deer River Naturalists and ME Global Canada, which funds the Ellis Bird Farm.

There are a number of projects the Ellis Bird Farm oversees as part of its mandate, but they could all be classified under conservation. Pearman said the farm maintains a nesting trail for birds and has a winter bird-feeding program, continuing one the traditions of Charlie Ellis.

Several research projects are also ongoing at the Ellis Bird Farm as well, said Pearman.

Using RFID chip technology that can track the whereabouts of birds, Ellis Bird Farm has been able to garner migratory information about its birds that is new to science. Pearman said it was previously unknown where the Alberta birds spent their winters, but this new project has shed some light on that subject.

One bird in the 22-bird study left Ellis Bird Farm heading straight for Winnipeg. From there, it headed to South America and spent the majority of the winter in eastern Brazil. It took the bird 75 days to reach Brazil but only 21 days to return to Alberta.

This same technology can be used to track birds on the farm as well. It can be used to record which birds are going into which nests, how often they are going in, and at what time.

Education is another big part of what the farm does. Pearman said 1,200 students come to the Ellis Bird Farm on school trips every season who take advantage of several educational programs set up at the Ellis Bird Farm.

In fact, students visit the farm each of the four weekdays (Tuesday – Friday) that the facility is open.

Students are able to participate in programs that are curriculum-based, said Pearman, like pond-dipping and building birdhouses.

Those 1,200 students are only a portion of the 11,000 visitors the farm sees annually, added Pearman.

Pearman said that today’s children are too disconnected from nature and must have some way to rebuild that bond, especially as they are both humanity and the planet’s future.

“I think that children are becoming more and more removed from the natural world,” said Pearman. “Screens are the biggest enemy and we have to make sure that children do not lose the connection with nature. So we are doing our small part to try and encourage children to learn about nature and realize that we have to have a healthy planet to survive.”