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Plan hatched to move tiny bird, egg-laden nest holding up Ottawa blues festival

Eggs are seen below a nesting killdeer bird on a cobblestone path on the site of the Ottawa Bluesfest, on June 25, 2018.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

A plan hatched by an Ottawa music festival to relocate a tiny plover and its egg-laden nest has received the go-ahead from federal environmental authorities.

Environment and Climate Change Canada said it is issuing a permit for Ottawa Bluesfest organizers to move the killdeer and its four eggs to a nearby suitable habitat.

Mark Monahan, Bluesfest executive director, said an official who has a federal licence to handle migratory birds is on her way to help move the eggs.

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“We’re hopefully going to have the nest and the eggs to a safe location by the end of the day,” Monahan said, adding that setup work on the stages should start soon.

“It’s not ideal, but we have enough time,” he said. “We may have to work some extra hours, but we should be fine.”

Environment and Climate Change Canada said in a statement Tuesday that the relocation will allow the nest to remain – and the eggs to hatch – in a natural environment.

But if the mother abandons the eggs, which is a possibility, the eggs will be transported to a facility where they have the best chance of survival.

The bird and its eggs – both of which enjoy protected status in Canada – were nestled on a cobblestone patch that would normally be directly underneath the main Bluesfest stage.

Killdeer are not considered a species at risk, although their domestic numbers in Canada have been on the decline over the last four decades.

Still, moving the nest required federal approval, which arrived ahead of a deadline that would have caused a cascade of construction problems for the 11-day festival, which gets under way next week.

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“There was a big learning curve, those of us involved with the festival had to quickly get up to speed on what needed to be done, so certainly it’s not something we’d like to go through again,” Monahan said. “We’re all faced with a situation we’ve never had before.”

A spokeswoman for the National Capital Commission said the Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary in Minden, Ont., some 300 kilometres west of Ottawa, will be involved in the move.

Until then, the commission is asking curious onlookers and bird watchers to keep their distance “so as to not further stress the nesting parents.”

Workers came across the killdeer last week when they arrived at the festival venue, which is currently being set up for a July 5 start date.

What the workers described was an agitated bird – the usual defensive habits of an adult killdeer when a threat or intruder has come too close to its nest.

Organizers put up yellow caution tape in place around the nest site, and the National Capital Commission paid for 24-hour security on ground overseen by the federal agency.

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Eggs generally take between 24 and 26 days to hatch, and it is unusual for them not to hatch by mid-June. Killdeer young are able to fly away soon after they are hatched, but there was no way to know whether they would hatch quickly.

The festival identified locations about 50 metres from the main stage area for a new perch for the killdeer – areas that aren’t used during the festival and could be cordoned off.

The spots are far enough away that they won’t be disturbed by the hundreds of thousands of music fans who will trample through the festival grounds to see the likes of Shawn Mendes, Bryan Adams, Foo Fighters and Dave Matthews Band, among a host of other acts.

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