Which comes first … Ottawa Bluesfest’s main stage or a mother bird and her eggs

A mother Killdeer guards her eggs located on cobblestone pad on the RBC Ottawa Bluesfest site.

Mark Monahan has seen a lot of stuff in 25 years of RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. He’s seen damaging winds, collapsing staging and injured roadies. He’s seen lots of badly behaved fans. And he’s listened to angry debates about lawn chairs.

But now a tiny mother bird is posing a real and very unique conundrum for one of the largest music festivals in North America.

“This is a new one for us. This is the first time we have had a nesting bird disrupt the setup.”

The bird is a Killdeer and she has laid four eggs on a circular cobblestone pad at the west end of the field in front of the Canadian War Museum, just where the festival’s main stage will be erected. Move-in is scheduled to begin Monday evening. That stage has to be ready for the beginning of the festival on July 5. Setting up Bluesfest is almost like a military invasion. Everything is planned to the minute to ensure the festival is ready on time. Any delay causes a ripple effect throughout the entire process that is most unwelcome. Monahan said the festival has had to adjust in the past because of bad weather, and coped, but it is not optimal.

Moving the main stage is not realistic, he said.

“It’s not just the main stage. We build a huge loading dock for instance behind the stage. On a given day we could have eight to 10 smis coming in here to unload. The activity level is tremendous.”

Monahan told a gaggle of reporters that the bird was discovered this past Friday by workers bringing in the first pieces of the festival infrastructure. The festival contacted the National Capital Commission about the presence of the nest. The area was subsequently cordoned off by yellow tape to protect the bird and her eggs. A security guard is patrolling the perimeter.

“We don’t know when the eggs will hatch but what we do know,” Monahan said, “the young Killdeers will leave the area when they do hatch.”

The festival has asked the NCC for advice on how to proceed. They have also applied to Environment Canada and asked to be able to relocate the eggs, Monahan said. They are hoping to get an answer sometime this afternoon or Tuesday morning so the work on the set-up can begin in earnest.

He said the festival will go ahead as planned and so the Killdeer and her eggs will soon have their world rocked by music and tens of thousands of fans.

“We are trying to come with a solution that is best for the eggs and the bird and also that wouldn’t hamper our ability to set up and put on the festival.”

He said there is research that suggests the eggs can be relocated a short distance away. The festival has looked at a site 50 metres away. As well, he said, the eggs could be incubated. The festival has reached out to the wildlife centre to do that.

“We are hoping there won’t be an option that will require the relocation of the stage, but the festival will go on. We have no indication that this bird will disrupt the event. This is one of the most challenging problems we have faced recently.”

He says all the stakeholders are looking for an outcome so that the bird hatches her eggs and the festival will go on as planned.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.