Christmas Bird Count

The 115th Christmas Bird Count in Canada

A record total of 460 counts were submitted in Canada this year, 22 more than last year and including 30 new counts:  Buffalo Lake, Eagle Hill, Elnora, Greenshields, Gull Lake, Innisfail, Millet-Wetaskiwin, Olds-Bowden, Red Deer River, and Sylvan Lake, AB; Armstrong-Enderby, Harrop-Balfour, Stuix-Tweedsmuir, and Wells-Bowron, BC; Caraquet, Miscou Island, and Paquetville, NB; Annapolis Royal and Church Point, NS; Nahanni Butte, NT; Kugluktuk, NU, Gananoque, Kapuskasing, Moonbeam, and Orono, ON; Bouchette and Neuville-Tilly, QC; Craven, SK; Marge of Lake Laberge and Tombstone, YT.  One count (Shediac, NB) was revived after a lengthy absence.  The participant total topped 14,000 for the first time ever.  The total number of birds bounced back to 3.5 million and the species total climbed to a record high of 305 from last year’s 291. 

The weather during the count period was generally fairly amenable to good participation and good counts.  Temperatures across the country were fairly mild before Christmas (with record highs in Newfoundland), then cooled off afterwards, especially on the Prairies.  That said, there were a few of the usual winter storms that plague unlucky counts. Victoria likely lost its top spot for the country when it was hit with winds of up to 90 kph on count day, keeping the boat teams on shore and sending shore teams ducking for cover.

British Columbia coastal counts topped the species richness list as usual.  This year Ladner (143 species) took its turn on top while gale-whipped Victoria was happy to get 140 species. Halifax-Dartmouth (112 species) had the highest species count on the Atlantic coast as usual and Oliver-Osoyoos, BC (110 species) kept up its reputation as the most diverse inland count. Other provincial high counts are listed in Table 1. On the other end of the diversity spectrum and at the dark, northern edge of the country, Arctic Bay and Kugluktuk, NU both reported only a single species:  Common Raven.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Common Raven is the most widespread species on Canadian Christmas Counts, reported this year on 426 counts.

Table 2 gives the totals for the 15 most abundant species on Canadian counts this year.  Waterfowl numbers contrasted markedly from last year’s low totals, largely due to open water on the Great Lakes and parts of the prairies after last year’s early freeze.  Canada Goose was up almost 100,000 (including a new Canadian high of 40,374 at Kingston, ON) and slipped into second spot on the list, while Greater Scaup reappeared on the top-15 list, going from last year’s dismal total (the lowest number in more than a decade) up to a record total of over 120,000.   

For the second year in a row, a southward irruption of Snowy Owls caused excitement in southern Canada, and this year the overall numbers on Christmas counts were even greater.  A total of 573 Snowies were seen on 129 counts, up from 527 on 113 counts last year.  Most of them were in Ontario (347) with the highest count being 48 at Kingston, Ile-St-Pierre, SPM had 17, the highest number on the Atlantic coast. 

The Eurasian Collared-Dove continues its spread throughout western Canada, with 6043 seen on 104 counts (5011 on 99 counts last year) but the pace of the expansion may be slowing.  The distribution pattern remains the same, with the bulk of the birds (5241) in BC and fewer numbers through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, respectively.  A total of three birds were seen on two counts in Ontario this year, first ever for Christmas Counts in that province.

Table 1.  Provincial and territorial summaries for the 115th Christmas Bird Count.

 

 

Counts

Species

Individuals

Field Observers

Feeder-watchers

Highest Species Total

AB

56

117

207,397

1198

844

Calgary, 65

BC

100

232

1,068,421

2935

698

Ladner, 143

MB

19

78

55,246

322

155

Cypress River-Spruce Woods, 52

NB

27

130

81,223

416

182

Grand Manan, 73

NL

9

117

45,859

124

30

St. John’s, 78

NS

34

173

274,367

656

496

Halifax-Dartmouth, 112

NT

6

25

4687

40

192

Fort Simpson 20

NU

4

5

392

8

1

Arviat, 4

ON

114

178

1,394,498

3031

1066

Long Point, 107

PE

3

83

34,148

54

7

East Point, 60

QC

40

150

264,914

882

146

Longueuil, 76

SK

33

79

57,639

279

141

Saskatoon, 43

YT

14

46

9389

170

100

Whitehorse, 33

SPM

1

46

6849

8

0

Ile-St-Pierre, 46

Total

460

305

3,505,029

10,123

4058

 

 

 

 

 

Table 2.  The 15 most abundant birds reported on the 2012-2013 Christmas Bird Count in Canada, with totals from the past four counts for comparison.

 

 

2014-15

2013-14

2012-13

2011-12

2010-11

American Crow

367,126

308,033

420,235

373,376

325,170

Canada Goose

351,400

263,415

373,210

358,870

261,866

European Starling

338,827

286,323

315,814

421,446

275,101

Mallard

212,272

200,047

196,708

231,340

207,595

Black-capped Chickadee

146,062

119,216

135,074

120,291

140,907

Greater Scaup

123,672

32,663

100,432

89,740

78,226

Rock Pigeon

119,918

98,090

114,557

117,861

116,287

House Sparrow

108,062

97,585

113,918

108,876

115,979

Dark-eyed Junco

83,368

93,342

88,378

73,574

82,495

Bohemian Waxwing

80,454

76,614

85,856

55,729

113,748

Herring Gull

74,509

46,267

66,090

81,563

63,110

Glaucous-winged Gull

67,722

93,788

95,759

104,454

105,253

American Wigeon

54,308

84,263

59,218

95,322

95,322

Snow Bunting

51,485

101,541

66,853

62,579

116,377

Northwestern Crow

47,116

46,787

41,090

62,583

60,055

 

 

 

The mild conditions across the country resulted in some surprising sightings of species that have normally left Canada for warmer climates by Christmas—13 species of warblers were seen in Atlantic Canada alone!  Two warblers were added to the all-time species list for Canadian Christmas Bird Counts: a Tennessee Warbler in Peel-Halton Counties, ON and a Black-throated Green Warbler at Cape Sable Island, NS.  Other interesting rarities included a Franklin’s Gull at Abbotsford-Mission, BC; White-winged Dove at Îles-de-la-Madeleine QC, Ash-throated Flycatcher at Halifax-Dartmouth, NS; Dusky Flycatcher at Wolfville, NS; White-eyed Vireo in Toronto, ON; Gray-cheeked Thrush at Sutton, ON; and Western Tanager at Kingston, NS. A Painted Bunting at Peel-Halton Counties, ON delighted birders, but its origin remains controversial as it is relatively common in the illegal cage-bird trade and this individual had a damaged beak when first seen.

Some interesting regional patterns emerged from the reports, although it’s often difficult to speculate on the forces behind the patterns.  Woodpeckers were seen in abundance in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, including 519 Downy at Edmonton, and 379 Hairy and 85 Pileated at Ottawa-Gatineau, all new Canadian all-time highs.  The total of 8056 Hairy Woodpeckers seen across the country is well above previous numbers.  The high counts of woodpeckers (and White-breasted Nuthatches) in Ontario was attributed to the combination of the emerald ash borer outbreak and ideal count conditions.  Curiously, Saskatchewan counts reported fewer woodpeckers than normal.

Winter finches came out of the north in reasonable numbers after being more or less absent last year.  A healthy total of 35,871 Common Redpolls was reported; more than ten times last year’s pathetic number (3462) but still well below the bonanza of 131,562 in 2012-13.  The Pine Siskin pattern was similar, going from over 80,000 in 2012-13 to 6235 last year, bouncing back to 25,581 this year.  Crossbills and grosbeaks showed very similar patterns.  It was heartening to see Evening Grosbeak numbers up somewhat to 9549, almost double last year’s disappointing totals.

Finally, while House Sparrow numbers are healthy enough in most of Canada, the species continues to decline, seemingly towards extirpation, in the Maritimes. This year’s numbers in Nova Scotia were the lowest since the 1970s, and the 30 counts in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island could only find a total of 183 sparrows.  On the other hand, single Eurasian Tree Sparrows at Winnipeg, MB and Niagara Falls, ON were the first ever for Canadian counts!

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