A total of 61 Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) was submitted data during the 120th (2019-20) season in Alberta, including one new count at Viking. December 15 was the most popular count day (11), followed by December 14 (10), and December 22 (8). A total of 226,605 individual birds of 116 species were tallied by 1308 field counters and 705 feeder counters. Edmonton had the most field counters (169) and party effort. Participants on the Horseshoe Canyon CBC put in the most nocturnal effort. Edmonton by far had the most feeder counters (262), followed by Calgary (87).
Calgary was the top count with 64 species on count day, down from 73 species the year previous. Six species or forms only detected during Count Week include: Tundra (Bewick’s) Swan (Lethbridge), Wilson’s Snipe (Banff-Canmore), Red-tailed (Harlan’s) Hawk (Lethbridge), Varied Thrush (Banff-Canmore), Yellow-headed Blackbird (Camrose), and Green-tailed Towhee (Fort McMurray). Not surprisingly, the Green-tailed Towhee was the only one detected in the country during the 120th Count. The top 10 most abundant species in Alberta, in order of most to least abundant were: Canada Goose, House Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, Mallard, Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon), Bohemian Waxwing, Black-billed Magpie, Snow Bunting, Common Raven, and House Finch. Black-capped Chickadee was the only species reported on all counts, and both Common Raven and Black-billed Magpie were reported for all circles except one.
Winter came early, and prolonged cold temperatures were felt throughout the province leading up the count period. Most counts reported lower diversity than usual, likely a result of the early winter weather, although temperatures were generally seasonal if not warmer than usual during the period. Grand Prairie recorded the coldest low temperature on count day with -21.5 degrees Celsius, while Waterton Lakes N.P. was the warmest at 6 degrees Celsius. Waterton Lakes N.P. also reported the greatest maximum snow depth (50 cm) and highest maximum wind speed (80 km/hr).
Species and notes
Canada Goose (89,875) was the most abundant waterfowl species reported, followed by Mallard (15,285), Common Goldeneye (1146), Bufflehead (164), and Common Merganser (97). Lethbridge, again reported the highest count of Canada Goose (47,551) for a circle in Canada, and set a new all-time high count. Cackling Goose was reported for Calgary and Lethbridge, and participants are reminded to try to obtain photos of this species when observed. Thirteen Tundra Swans at Wabumun Lake were notable, as were four Trumpeters at Brule. Sharp-tailed Grouse again seemed scarce, with a high count of 59 coming from Wainwright. Medicine Hat reported the highest count of Ring-necked Pheasant (130) in Canada. The only count day Spruce Grouse reported in the province was at Banff-Canmore. The only grebe species reported was a well-documented Eared Grebe at High River. Loons, cormorants, and herons were not reported this year. American Coot was reported at Calgary and Lethbridge in low numbers.
Six of the seven Killdeer reported on count day were at Calgary, one was at Snake’s Head, and an additional count week bird was at Crowsnest. The only Wilson’s Snipe in the province was at Banff-Canmore. Unlike recent years, no gulls were detected at all during the CBC season in Alberta. Interestingly, Eurasian Collared-Doves continue to show a slight decline compared to recent years.
The most abundant raptor was Bald Eagle (237) followed by Rough-legged Hawk (72), and Northern Goshawk (30). The nine Northern Goshawks at Calgary was a North American high count this year. Merlin (58) was the most abundant falcon, followed by Prairie Falcon (10), and Gyrfalcon (5). Single American Kestrels were at Leduc and Medicine Hat, while the only Peregrine Falcon was at Edmonton. All nine expected owl species were detected including Canadian high counts represented by six Great Gray Owls at Cochrane Wildlife Reserve and one Boreal Owl at Devon-Calmar. Great Horned Owl was the species most detected (95), followed by Snowy Owl (34), and Great Gray Owl (18).
High counts for North America were recorded for American Three-toed Woodpecker (25) at Banff-Canmore and Black-backed Woodpecker (12) at Edmonton. Edmonton also boasted the highest count for Downy (453) and Pileated (67) woodpeckers in Canada. A total of 10 Belted Kingfishers from three counts suggests a steadily increasing trend for this species during winter.
Banff-Canmore counted the highest total for Clark’s Nutcracker (49) in Canada, while Calgary continues to be the North American stronghold for Black-billed Magpie (2346). Three out of the four chickadee species found in Canada had high counts from circles in Alberta; Mountain Chickadee (319) at Banff-Canmore and Boreal Chickadee (111) at Cochrane Wildlife Reserve were Canadian highs, and Black-capped Chickadee (3276) at Edmonton was a North American high. A surprisingly high count of five Pacific/Winter Wren came from three counts.
Calgary reported the North American High count for House Sparrow (5062), a species that has declined in other parts of North America recent years. Calgary also reported the highest Canadian total for Bohemian Waxwing (2601). A Northern Mockingbird at Lethbridge was a noteworthy addition. Even more rare was a Green-tailed Towhee at Fort McMurray during Count Week. Dark-eyed Junco (528) was the most abundant sparrow, followed by White-throated Sparrow (11) and White-crowned Sparrow (5). Red-winged, Rusty, and Yellow-headed blackbirds, Common Grackle, and Western Meadowlark were present but recorded in very low numbers. No wood warblers were recorded during the count period. Finch numbers were unremarkable but all expected species were recorded