Bird-man of St. Albert dies
Peter Demulder founder of city's bird count
Wednesday, Dec 07, 2016 06:00 am
Edmonton-area naturalists mourned this week following the news that one of St. Albert’s most prominent birders had died.
Veteran birder and St. Albert resident Peter Demulder died Dec. 2 at age 87.
Known to some as the Birdman of St. Albert, Demulder was the founder of the St. Albert Christmas Bird Count and one of the city’s foremost amateur ornithologists, famous for his uncanny ability to identify and reproduce almost any bird call.
“The one I always remembered was the barred owl,” said birder and long-time friend Dan Stoker, the call of which Demulder would enunciate as, “Who! Cooks! For you? Who cooks for you all?”
“Everybody loved it.”
Even in his final days, Demulder could still identify a bird with just a few hints and a recording of its song, said his son Bob.
“He could still nail that sort of thing right up until the end.”
Born to bird
Born in Ostend, Belgium, in 1929, Demulder grew up watching migrating terns and other birds soar past his home each year, effectively making him a birder by default, Bob said.
“He was always fascinated by them.”
Demulder was also interested in airplanes, and was just about to become a pilot with the British Royal Air Force when the Second World War ended, Bob said. Instead, he trained as a medical lab technician, later moving to Canada in 1964 with his wife, Deirdre. He taught medical lab technology at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology before becoming chief lab technician for Kasper (now DynaLife) Medical Labs, where he supervised thousands of blood tests prior to his retirement.
Stoker described Demulder as a friendly, if sometimes curmudgeonly, man with a great smile.
“He really, really enjoyed communicating to kids and being in front of a classroom,” Stoker said, holding many of them spellbound as he demonstrated bird calls.
Demulder was a huge fan of the outdoors, always taking the family canoeing and camping, Bob said. Despite the depth of his birding knowledge, Bob said Demulder never had any formal training as an ornithologist, picking up all he knew from books and experience.
“There was very little he couldn’t fix,” Bob said of Demulder. If he wasn’t out birding on a Saturday, you would inevitably find Demulder in the garage working on his car.
Demulder got his start with bird counts back in 1964 when he joined the Edmonton Christmas Bird Count, said Alan Hingston, co-ordinator of the St. Albert count.
In a 2010 interview with the Gazette, Demulder said he started the St. Albert count in 1991 to help members of the new Big Lake Environment Support Society (of which he was a founding member) track trends in bird populations.
Demulder never used a computer, instead co-ordinating counters by phone and in person and recording everything in a laboratory notebook, Hingston said. Although he handed off leadership of the count to David Nadeau in 2003, Demulder stayed on as an active participant until at least 2013.
Demulder’s work with the count soon made him the point-of-contact for anyone who spotted a strange bird in St. Albert, Hingston said.
“He became known as the local bird-man of St. Albert.”
Demulder led by example in his advocacy for the environment, and was a regular volunteer with the Edmonton Nature Club, the Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary and the Beaverhill Bird Observatory, said Lu Carbyn of Edmonton’s Wildbird General Store.
“He transmitted an enthusiasm and love for nature that was very infectious.”
Edmonton naturalists were very sad to hear of his death, particularly as it came just a few months after the passing of his wife, Carbyn said.
“It made your day to meet Deirdre and Peter.”
His children, Jill, Sally and Bob, and grandchildren Mark and Siobhan survive Demulder.
A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Connelly-McKinley Funeral Home on St. Albert Trail. In lieu of flowers, guests are asked to donate to the Peter Demulder Memorial Fund through the Nature Conservancy of Canada.