The 121st Christmas Bird Count in British Columbia, Canada

Provincial Summary

A total of 87 Christmas Bird Counts in British Columbia (BC) submitted data for the 121st (2020-21). Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, most counts were safely conducted taking precautionary measures and not holding in-person gatherings. One previously unregistered count, Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, was welcomed during the 121st. Sunday, December 20 was the day most counts took place (19), followed by Sunday, December 27 (17), and Saturday, December 19 (11). Victoria had the most counters in the field (265), followed by Galiano-North Saltspring (135), and Pender Islands (130). Parksville-Qualicum Beach had the most Feeder Counters (76), an increase compared the year previous (59), followed by Victoria (54) and Creston (29).

A total of 1,024,335 individual birds of 224 species were tallied by 2828 field counters and 719 feeder counters. Victoria was the top count with 143 species on count day, an increase of eight species compared to last year. Seven species only detected during Count Week include: Common Pochard (Parksville-Qualicum Beach), Gray Partridge (Peachland), Cattle Egret (Cortes Island), Lesser Black-backed Gull (Vernon), Black-backed Woodpecker (100 Mile House, Cranbrook, Golden, Prince George, Rossland-Warfield), Barn Swallow (Victoria), and Common Yellowthroat (White Rock-Surrey-Langley). The top 10 most abundant species in BC, in order of most to least abundant were: Pine Siskin, Mallard, European Starling, Canada Goose, Dark-eyed Junco, American Wigeon, Glaucous-winged Gull, Dunlin, American Robin, and Snow Goose. Bald Eagle and Common Raven were the only species reported on all counts.

Weather during counts in BC was mild in general. Fourteen circles reported precipitation during both the morning and afternoon on count day. Penticton enjoyed a count day high of 14 degrees Celsius while neighboring Peachland took place nine days later and reported the coldest low temperature on count day (-11 Celsius). Five counts (Big White, Golden, Nelson, Smithers, and Yoho N.P.) reported maximum snow depths of one meter or more, with Nelson again on top as the snowiest circle.

Species and notes

Mallard (79,416) was the most abundant waterfowl species reported in BC, followed by Canada Goose (60,650), American Wigeon (54,575), Snow Goose (21,309), and Bufflehead (14,323). Chilliwack set a Canadian all time high record for Cackling Goose (6153), a species that seem to be observed in increasing numbers during winter in the Fraser Valley. The count week female Common Pochard at Parsksville-Qualicum Beach was new for the Canadian Species list. Remarkably, a male was at Victoria circle up to only one month prior. Greater Masset was the only circle to report “Eurasian” Green-winged Teal, compared to two from as many circles last year.

Three Dusky Grouse at Penticton was a North American high count. Victoria, Sidney-South Saltspring, Comox, Cortes Island, Galiano North Saltspring, and Powell River had Canadian high counts of all the grebes. The most abundant grebe species was Horned (3063), followed by Red-necked (1496) and Western (1340).

A count week Cattle Egret at Cortes Island was the only noteworthy heron. Parskville-Qualicum Beach had the highest count for Pacific Loons (721) in North America. Common Murre was the most widely reported and abundant alcid (2849), closely followed by Ancient Murrelet (2668). One Cassin’s Auklet at Bamfield was the only one reported. Parksville-Qualicum Beach reported the highest number of Ancient Murrelets in North America. Sooke had the North American high count for Brandt’s Cormorant while Victoria again had the highest count of Pelagic Cormorant.

The only reported Whimbrel was at Deep Bay, and White Rock-Surrey-Langley set a count high of nine Marbled Godwits. Ladner’s 33,255 Dunlin were a high count for North America, a reminder of the importance of the Fraser Estuary for this species. Another North American high count was Surfbirds at Nanaimo. Penticton recorded the highest number of California Gulls in Canada, and also a new high for the count.

Penticton also reported the Canadian high count for Golden Eagles (9) while Terrace had the North American high count for Northern Goshawk (5). Bald Eagle (8146) was the most abundant species of raptor, followed by Red-tailed Hawk (1192), Cooper’s Hawk (294), Northern Harrier (221), and Sharp-shinned Hawk (186). Three circles reported “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk in the province: Oliver-Osoyoos, Armstrong-Enderby, and Lake Country. A total of 425 owls of 10 species was in increase compared to 343 individuals of 11 species during the 120th. Surprisingly, Northern Pygmy-Owls (93) outnumbered Barred Owls (76) in BC, but that could have been due in part to the absence of Vancouver. No Snowy Owls were reported on count day or count week in BC.

Another year, and another record all-time high count for Anna’s Hummingbird (1331) in Victoria as the species continues to increase elsewhere in the province. The only Rufous Hummingbird in BC was at Squamish. One Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was a pleasant surprise at Ladner while Black-backed Woodpecker was not detected on Count Day despite being recorded on Count Week by five circles. The only Prairie Falcon on Count Day in BC was at Oliver-Osoyoos, and Pitt Meadows detected one for Count Week.

A Black Phoebe at Victoria might have been the rarest bird recorded on a Count Day. Western Scrub-Jays were at Squamish, Ladner, and Harrison River. A Northern Mockingbird was at Victoria on Count Day, while another was at Cranbrook for Count Week. A Count Week Barn Swallow was the only one swallow the province. Victoria had North American high counts for Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Pacific Wren, and Bewick’s Wren, which was also a new high count for the circle. Four out of the six Mountain Bluebirds in BC were at Vaseux Lake.

One Clay-colored Sparrow at Comox was unusual and single Harris’s Sparrows were at Kelowna and Williams Lake. Victoria reported North American high counts for Fox Sparrow and Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco. A Bullock’s Oriole stuck it out until Count Day at Comox and single Common Grackles were at Dawson Creek and Prince George. Notable warblers were one Count Week Common Yellowthroat at White Rock-Surrey-Langley, one Palm Warbler at Parksville-Qualicum Beach, and single Wilson’s Warblers at Chilliwack and Kelowna. Kelowna and Penticton both had single Lesser Goldfinches, but the most impressive finch highlight was the invasion of Pine Siskins in the province, the most counted bird of the 2020-21 CBC.