For the love of birds
Ait nyone who has either met or read about André and France Dion knows that this couple loves birds. And while visiting the Dions at their home in Magog, quickly became apparent that birds love them right back! Sitting in their solarium,
mourning doves fluttered at the windows while blue jays and chickadees took turns at a feeder in their yard, one of many.
And who can blame the birds? The Dions, who are better known outside of Quebec for their work on behalf of birds, have created a miniature bird sanctuary of their small yard. “This is the third bird sanctuary that we’ve built. We’ve planted many different shrubs and trees that give fruit: moose shrubs, elderberries, high bush cranberries, chokecherries...shrubs that bring different birds at different times of the year. And we have different kinds of nesting boxes, for tree swallows, bluebirds, chickadees,” explained André Dion who, among a few other bird-related accomplishments, wrote fifteen books on the subject and was once the direc- tor of the North American Bluebird Society. In 2010, he was named a “chevalier” of France’s prestigious Ordre de la Pléiade de la Francophonie for his lifelong work with our feathered friends.
“Look over there,” he said, pointing to a corner of the garden. “There are about twenty-five doves.” Besides many of the more common birds, their sanctuary is home to bohemian waxwings, woodpeckers, red breasted grosbeaks, crossbills and more. “We get lots of children visiting the sanctuary – maybe about two hundred and fifty people visited last summer,” added Mrs. Dion.
The Dions, who are still going strong in their seventies and eighties, married forty years ago, bringing together their five daughters to create a new family and a productive partnership. “My wife and I have been together for forty years and she has worked with me, helping me in all the projects,” said Mr. Dion appreciatively. “We didn’t just write books, we wrote one hundred and five “Auto Correct Art” games (educational games that sold very well in several countries and won awards), we travelled with our daughters all over the world. It was sometimes difficult to live together, working seven days a week together. It was a big job but we were very happy to do it,” added Mrs. Dion.
The Dions laughed when they recalled how André began writing the first book Le retour de l’oiseau bleu which was published in both English and French. “At fifty-nine years of age my husband was having a terrible gout attack. I told him you’re dying now so you’ll have to write your book,” said France. “I always said I would write a book. In six days I wrote that book – with a typewriter! I worked day and night,” said André.
After the book was published, France created the Societé des Amis du merle bleu de l’Est de l’Amerique (SAMBEA) which soon had 450 members, all dedicated to the task of bringing the beautiful little bluebird back to Quebec. Mr. Dion explained why the bluebirds became so scarce in the first place: “The English sparrows and the starlings began nesting in the kinds of cavities that the bluebirds used.”
The Dions, along with the Society’s members, got very busy, building and installing bluebird nesting boxes all over Quebec, from the Saguenay to the Gaspé. “We taught people how to make the nesting boxes and we went everywhere – on golf courses, in cemeteries...” mentioned France. “When we were finished we had installed more than 10,000 nesting boxes all over Quebec. And the bluebirds came back,” said André.
How the Dions ended up living in Magog was the culmination of another one of their adventures which began on a terribly tragic note. After the death of one of their five daughters, the Dions decided to sell their large home in St. Placide, along with
most of their belongings, to go travelling in a big RV, heading off in 1996. “Our goal was to go to Capistrano, California, to see the swallows there. When we started that trip, André was 74 years old,” said France.
“Was it a difficult trip?” I asked. “No. It was the best thing we ever did. After losing a daughter, we kept our memories in our head.”
After travelling around the United States for four years, even making it up to Alaska, it was time to settle down again. “André’s brother suggested we buy a little house in Magog. André’s roots are here and we love the region,” Mrs. Dion admitted.
The Dions have been working on a new adventure for the past few years, one that is steadily gaining in support as did the quest to bring back the bluebird. “After the success we had with the bluebirds, we didn’t want to just sit on our hands,” said France. So in 2003, France created a new foundation to protect nesting ducks such as the Barrow’s Goldeneye, a kind of small duck that makes its nests in cavities. The clear-cutting of our Northern forests is making it harder and harder for these kinds of ducks to nest.
To help finance the campaign, money is needed mostly to buy wood to build the nesting boxes, Mr. Dion decided to write another book, but this one would be different. “I wanted to tell our story with the birds and I wanted to find a way to reach different people,” he explained. L’Odyssée du Garrot d’Islande en Amerique, published in 2009, is Mr. Dion’s first novel.
“For that book I had to go to Iceland to do research,” he said. “He went there alone, when he was 84,” said France. “It was the best trip ever. I lived for ten days at a research centre where the Barrow’s Goldeneye has been nesting for seven centuries,” added André enthusiastically.
France had this to say about their goals for the future: “Our first objective is to install 500 nest- ing boxes for ducks in the ‘grand nord’, Tadoussac and up. After we go up in May, we’ll have installed 174 nesting boxes in two years. Our second objective is to find someone who will one day take over the work: the children.” The Dions have already worked with many young students, showing them how to build the nesting boxes and how to install them properly. “Our third objective is to engage people who have nothing to do to help us. We have great weekends, we get great deals on lodging and we’re outside all weekend. C’est la fete!”
To conclude the inter- view, Mr. Dion wanted to remind our readers who feed the birds to do so carefully, so as not to make the birds sick, mentioning the dangers of mouldy birdfeed and improper hummingbird food solutions. “When people take care of birds, they should do it seriously. People are responsible for what happens to the birds. Remember Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring? It’s happening.”
For more information about the Dion’s foundation to protect nesting ducks or to order Mr. Dion’s new novel, visit www.fondationdesdion. com.
André and France Dion sit in their solarium, surrounded by the well-populated bird sanctuary that is their small yard.
André and France Dion are seen here with other volunteers before installing nesting boxes for ducks at Baie Ste-Catherine.