Christmas Bird Count

114th Christmas Bird Count in Canada

By Richard J. Cannings

A record total of 438 counts were submitted in Canada this year, 20 more than last year and including 20 new counts:  Atlin, Bella Coola, Elkford, Peachland, Rivers Inlet Mouth, Sparwood and Tumbler Ridge, BC; Carman, MB; Dalhousie, Hammond River-Hampton, Saint Paul and Tracadie-Sheila, NB; Aspy Bay, NS; Brantford and Rice Lake Plains, ON; Lac-Megantic, QC; Balgonie, Grayson, Love, and Turtleford, SK.  Five counts (Lake Windermere, BC; Cape Breton Highlands NP, Cheticamp, Economy and Eskasoni-Big Pond, NS) were revived after lengthy absences.  The participant total topped 13,000 for the second year in a row.

The total number of birds was barely above 3 million and the species total slipped to 291 from last year’s 292, the lowest total in a decade.  The weather played a big role in these declines.  British Columbia weather was fairly normal, with a calm opening weekend on the coast and mean low temperature of ‑2.3°C, slightly warmer than the long‑term average.  East of the Rockies a pattern of brutal weather systems—low temperatures, deep snow and storms—had a significant negative impact on species totals, and presumably the enthusiasm of participants.  Mean low temperature on the prairies was ‑18.6°C, moderating somewhat to the east with ‑14.9°C in central Canada and ‑11.2° in Atlantic Canada.  Low temperatures in the Territories averaged a bitter ‑24.2°C.  All these temperatures are 2 to 6 degrees Celsius colder than average.  Snow was a huge factor in many areas, and the storms seem to track across central and eastern Canada on the weekends when many counts were scheduled. 

British Columbia coastal counts topped the species richness list as usual.  This year Victoria (146 species) and Ladner (140) swapped places and species totals from last year. Oliver-Osoyoos, BC was the only inland count in the country above the century mark with 102 species.  No counts in Ontario topped 100 species for the first time in several years (Blenheim and Hamilton managed 98) and even Atlantic powerhouse Halifax-Dartmouth only tallied 106. Other provincial high counts are listed in Table 1.

Table 2 gives the totals for the 15 most abundant species on Canadian counts this year.  Certain waterfowl species declined markedly, mostly due to frigid conditions on the Great Lakes.  Canada Goose tallies were down by more than 100,000, and Greater Scaup dropped off the top-15 list altogether, going from over 100,000 birds last year to less than a third of that, the lowest total in more than a decade. 

For the third year in a row, a southward irruption of Snowy Owls caused excitement in southern Canada, but this year the numbers were even larger and concentrated more in central and eastern Canada rather than the West.  A total of 527 Snowies were seen on 113 counts, with the highest count being 31 at La Foret Larose, ON.  Unfortunately a huge concentration at Cape Race, NL (over 200 in early December) remained uncounted because the one access road to that count circle was snowed in just before the count period began.

The Eurasian Collared-Dove continues its spread throughout western Canada, with 5011 seen on 99 counts.  This is more than 10 times the number seen only five years ago, when 460 were seen on 18 counts.  Over 4000 of these were in British Columbia with most of the remainder in Alberta and Saskatchewan.  Single doves were seen outside southwestern Canada at Watson Lake, YT and Brome Lake, QC.

Table 1.  Provincial and territorial summaries for the 114th Christmas Bird Count.

 

Counts

Species

Individuals

Field observers

Feeder watchers

Highest species total

AB

48

103

174,296

1070

843

Calgary, 63

BC

100

232

1,080,460

2738

750

Victoria, 146

MB

21

71

46,534

354

173

Brandon, 39

NB

22

110

56,569

325

225

Grand Manan, 70

NL

9

90

32,245

96

28

St. John’s, 60

NS

33

150

226,051

567

575

Halifax-Dartmouth, 106

NT

4

21

3895

54

10

Fort Simpson, 18

NU

3

3

411

7

0

Arctic Bay, Arviat, 2

ON

110

178

1,094,937

3077

1073

Blenheim, Hamilton, 98

PE

3

65

9800

38

6

Hillsborough, 56

QC

36

117

224,166

785

188

Lennoxville, 58

SK

35

95

58,223

284

168

Saskatoon, 40

YT

13

37

8039

114

88

Whitehorse, 25

SPM

1

43

5771

9

0

Ile-St-Pierre, 43

Total

438

291

3,021,397

9518

4127

 

 

Winter finches were another big news item this year, but the story was quite the opposite from last year’s remarkable highs.  The northern finches simply stayed north.  Common Redpolls were essentially absent in southern Canada, with the national total dropping from over 130,000 last year to an unprecedented low of 3462. The Pine Siskin pattern was similar, going from over 80,000 last year to 6230.  Crossbills and grosbeaks showed similar drops.  The recent tentative recovery of Evening Grosbeak numbers suffered a setback, with only 5554 seen on 111 counts, a drop of more than 50 percent from totals over the last two years.

Table 2.  The 15 most abundant birds reported on the 2013-2014 Christmas Bird Count in Canada, with totals from the past five counts for comparison. 

 

2013-14

2012-13

2011-12

2010-11

2009-10

2008-09

American Crow

308,033

420,235

373,376

325,170

237,278

282,492

European Starling

286,323

315,814

421,446

275,101

337,812

326,355

Canada Goose

263,415

373,210

358,870

261,866

256,747

176,799

Mallard

200,047

196,708

231,340

207,595

194,803

146,063

Black-capped Chickadee

119,216

135,074

120,291

140,907

128,879

115,657

Snow Bunting

101,541

66,853

62,579

116,377

96,522

99,059

Rock Pigeon

98,090

114,557

117,861

116,287

115,688

111,654

House Sparrow

97,585

113,918

108,876

115,979

115,989

100,767

Glaucous-winged Gull

93,788

95,759

104,454

105,253

84,309

90,482

Dark-eyed Junco

93,342

88,378

73,574

82,495

81,842

74,959

American Wigeon

84,263

59,218

95,322

67,808

49,801

31,639

Bohemian Waxwing

76,614

85,856

55,729

113,748

75,570

86,597

American Goldfinch

57,448

39,199

65,091

49,776

55,072

58,961

Mourning Dove

55,229

50,491

37,784

52,314

42,641

47,093

Northwestern Crow

46,787

41,090

62,583

60,055

74,060

41,263

 

Canada’s all-time species list for Christmas Bird Counts grew to 429 with three new species on British Columbia counts.  On Haida Gwaii, two Black-footed Albatross were at Greater Massett and a single Red-faced Cormorant at Rose Spit, while Chilliwack tallied a Black Phoebe.  A Tundra Bean-Goose came close to adding another species to the Canada list, but unfortunately died the day before the Yarmouth, NS count.  Most notable sightings came from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, including two Western Scrub-Jays at Pitt Meadows, BC; a Yellow-throated Warbler at Wolfville, NS; a Grasshopper Sparrow at Cape Sable Island, NS; a Hooded Oriole at Broughton Strait, BC; and a Brambling at Tlell, BC.  Outstanding regional finds included five Black Vultures at Point Pelee, ON; a Great Black-backed Gull at Gardiner Dam, SK; a Pomarine Jaeger at Hamilton, ON and two Bullock’s Orioles (both in the same backyard as the Yellow-throated Warbler!) at Wolfville, NS.


I would like to thank two long-term regional editors who have worked hard over the years on the Christmas Bird Count in Canada and are stepping down this year: Rainer Ebel in Alberta and Sarah Rupert in Ontario.  I also welcome Cameron Eckert, the editor for the new Northern Canada region and Yousif Attia, responsible for editing in Alberta and the Prairie Provinces report.  And I mourn the very untimely death of Ryan Cathers, the young and enthusiastic compiler of the Nanaimo, BC count; he will be sorely missed.

 

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