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By Yousif Attia, Citizen Science Coordinator, Birds Canada

 

The long running Christmas Bird Count (CBC) has been represented in Canada since the very beginning, when two of the first ever counts were held in New Brunswick and Ontario in the year 1900. Since then, the early winter bird survey has been providing data for conservation biologists and environmental planners to assess the population trends and distribution of birds. A total of 469 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) circles submitted results for the 120th season. Seven new counts were registered for the 2019-20: Buffalo Pound P.P. (SK), (BC), Grand Falls-Windsor (NL), Hornepayne (ON), Kuskanook (BC), Sable Island (NS), and Viking (AB). More than three million individual birds of 296 species were recorded by 11,170 field counters and 3,647 feeder counters. 

Weather during the CBC was varied across the country. Some counts reported challenging birding conditions early in the period (the CBC period is December 14 through January 5), although generally, conditions were favorable. Atlantic provinces experienced a mild fall, which resulted in many birds lingering, or being blown in from south and west. This was followed by a cold and abrupt early winter that concentrated birds at bodies of water and feeders. Temperatures during December in Québec were lower than average, and many waterbodies froze by count period. November brought a cold and early start to winter in Ontario reducing many waterbodies, although temperatures during the count period were typical. Low temperatures came even earlier to the Prairie provinces, coupled with heavy snowfall in parts. British Columbia was generally seasonal although coastal areas received colder weather early on that may have contributed to lower species diversity. Temperatures during the CBC period were average across the country. The coldest count award for the 120th was a three-way tie between Hay River (NT), Oak Hammock (MB), and Shell Lake (SK) at-33 degrees Celsius, compared to -30 degrees Celsius at Hudson, QC last year.

The top 15 most abundant species reported on Canadian counts during the 120th CBC season, listed from highest to lowest, were: Canada Goose, European Starling, American Crow, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Black-capped Chickadee, House Sparrow, Snow Goose, Herring Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Northwestern Crow, Greater Scaup, American Goldfinch, Blue Jay, and Long-tailed Duck. Common Raven was the most widespread species, detected on more counts than any other species.

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Black-capped Chickadee Photo: Mary Ott

Results by Region

No new species were added to the all-time Canadian list during the 120th CBC, which stands at 438 species. The Atlantic provinces enjoyed many rare treats including a count day Pink-footed Goose (St. Johns, NL), a Semipalmated Sandpiper (Cape Race, NL), a count week Seaside Sparrow (Wolfville, NS), a Lark Bunting (Broad Cove, NS), and several wood-warblers including a Hermit Warbler (St. Johns, NL). The Atlantic provinces produced North American highest count of Tufted Ducks (64; St. Johns, NL), Dovekie (6990; Brier Island, NS), Thick-billed Murre (20; Ferryland, NL), Black Guillemot (165; Cape Race, NB), Iceland Gull (1588; St. Johns, NL), and Great Black-backed Gull (3200; Sable Island, NS). Québec recorded the highest count of Glaucous Gull (65) from a circle (Longueuil) and enjoyed a Lark Sparrow and a Scarlet Tanager (both Montreal). Possibly the most out of place record for Ontario was a very lost Northern Fulmar, a pelagic species, on the Ottawa River (Ottawa-Gatineau). Some other odd lingering neotropical species for Ontario included a Swainson’s Thrush (Toronto), a Wilson’s Warbler (London), and two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (one at London, one at Minden). In the middle of the country, Saskatchewan added a new species to the all-time provincial list, a Pacific Loon (Gardiner Dam). Like last year, the rarest species for Alberta during the season was found during count week, this time a Green-tailed Towhee (Fort McMurray). A count week “Bewick’s” Tundra Swan and a Northern Mockingbird (both Lethbridge) also deserve mention. In British Columbia, a Red-throated Pipit (Victoria), and a Great Egret (Abbotsford-Mission) were noteworthy. Two records from Haida Gwaii, Common Snipe (Skidegate Inlet) and Fieldfare (Rose Spit) are pending review by Bird Records Committee.

 

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Surf Scoters Photo: Yousif Attia

Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, and Yukon Territory reported lower species diversity compared to last year. The remaining Atlantic provinces, Nunavut, Québec, and Saskatchewan all reported more species than during the 119th. British Columbia had the highest diversity, reporting 211 species, followed by Ontario (182), Nova Scotia (173) and a tie between New Brunswick and Québec (134). Historical or current year results by count or species can be found on the Audubon website now. CBC data have been used widely by researchers and wildlife biologists to develop hundreds of conservation planning documents and peer-reviewed scientific publications. Recently, CBC data were used to determine that the size of North America’s bird population has decreased by nearly three billion birds compared to only 50 years ago! If not for long-term monitoring programs like the CBC, birds would be far worse off. Check out the CBC bibliography on the Audubon website.  All provincial and territorial counts are summarized in Table 1.

A special thanks goes out to compilers, who spend hours recruiting and organizing participants on the ground and rounding up and entering data. Thank you also to the regional editors who carefully ensure all CBC data are reviewed every year. The CBC would not be possible without the efforts of thousands of volunteer Citizen Scientists.

High Counts Articles, regional summaries, and information on how you can get involved with the CBC, can be found here.

Birds Canada manages the Christmas Bird Count in Canada with US partner, National Audubon Society.

Table 1. 2019-20 Christmas Bird Count Summary

 

Counts

Species1

Individuals

Field Counters

Feeder Counters

Highest Species Total 2019-20

Highest Species Total 2018-19

AB

61

116

226,605

1308

705

Calgary (64)

Calgary (73)

BC

86

211

787,179

2904

533

Victoria (135)

Victoria (144)

MB

21

74

52,157

347

203

Brandon (43)

Winnipeg (52)

NB

30

134

93,661

448

213

Grand Manan Island (63)

Grand Manan Island (69)

NL

11

111

37,445

144

50

St. Johns (67)

St. Johns (75)

NS

35

173

193,212

702

314

Halifax-Dartmouth (105)

Halifax-Dartmouth (122)

NT

3

25

3682

38

10

Fort Smith (16)

Fort Smith (14)

NU

1

3

185

2

0

Rankin Inlet (2)

Rankin Inlet (2)

ON

126

182

1,222,864

3697

1173

Blenheim (104)

Long Point (117)

PE

3

74

18,546

63

12

Hillsborough (47)

Prince Edward Island N.P. (54)

QC

41

134

260,116

974

230

Montreal (74)

Montreal (69)

SK

44

90

113,258

471

140

Gardiner Dam (45)

Regina (41)

YT

7

39

8,167

109

46

Whitehorse (27)

Whitehorse (24)

Total

469

296

3,017,077

11,170

3647

 

 

  1. Includes species detected during Count Week
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