By Kerrie Wilcox, Manager, Project FeederWatch
The 36th season of Project FeederWatch was a tremendous success! Thank you to all new and returning participants for supporting FeederWatch by watching birds, and contributing counts!
Some things never change: Black-capped Chickadees have claimed the top spot in the top 10 ranking across the country since FeederWatch began in 1988. The top 10 lists have comprised virtually the same species for 36 years – which goes to show that you don’t need to know hundreds of birds to participate! Knowing how to identify 10 to 20 species will cover most of your visitors.
However, some things have changed a lot. One of the biggest adjustments to the top 10 list across the country is the appearance of Northern Cardinals. While absent from the list in 1988, they are now in the number four spot. Conversely, House Sparrows were in the number four spot in 1988 and have dropped from the list since 2007.
Blue Jay Photo: Robert Barnes
The entire country saw a record low number of individual birds per site this past season with the average number of individual birds per week down from 41 the previous year to 36. There are a number of possible reasons that may have contributed to fewer birds this season: the proportion of FeederWatch site locations may have shifted to more urban locations, there may be more people feeding birds so the birds are more spread out, and it may be related to fewer irruptive species at feeders. There was a good seed and cone crop in northern boreal forests this past winter, so many species stayed north and did not come to feeders. Your FeederWatch counts and site descriptions will help us answer these questions and more!
Mourning Dove Photo: Brenda Doherty
Insights from FeederWatch Data
Trends from the 2022-23 season are highlighted below from across Canada. You can explore the full dataset and make discoveries of your own using the Trend Graphs feature on the website at Feederwatch.org/explore/trend-graphs.
This past season, the Atlantic provinces of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland reported Black-capped Chickadees as the top bird followed by Blue Jays. All of the irruptive species dropped off the top 10 list (irruptive species including Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls leave boreal forests in years when food supplies are short). There has been a steady increase in Northern Cardinals visiting feeders – they were recorded at an astounding 58% of feeders at least once in the season.
The Prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta had lower numbers of Blue Jays this past season. Blue Jays are partially migratory in that some move and some stay behind. Occasionally large scale movements result when there are food shortages. Eurasian Collared-Doves continue to expand east in Canada from their beginnings in British Columbia to the Prairies visiting nearly six per cent of feeders last season.
Red bellied Woodpecker and Blue Jay Photo: Pat Hare
White-breasted Nuthatches visited 10% more feeders this season in Ontario increasing from 68% to 78%. Unlike Red-breasted Nuthatches, they are more sedentary and tend to have a more stable presence at FeederWatch sites. If you have one, look around for two – pairs typically spend the entire year together. It was a good year for seeing Red-breasted Nuthatches at feeders in Ontario this season – they visited 65% of sites. Red-breasted nuthatches are quite dependent on conifer seeds which are produced in different quantities each year – so they periodically move out of their preferred boreal habitats in search of food.
In Quebec, Tufted Titmice are on the rise appearing at nearly 12% of feeders this past season! This species is expanding north likely due to warmer winters and increased bird feeding. Wild Turkeys are also increasingly being reported in Quebec. This past season they visited 13% of sites making it a record year. While native to Quebec and Ontario, they were extirpated in the 1900s and were re-introduced in the 1980s.
In British Columbia, Varied Thrush were recorded at a whopping 66% of feeders thanks to a great berry crop. They were only higher once in the history of FeederWatch in 1999! Both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers were seen at fewer feeders last season. Downys were down from 66% of sites in 2021-22 to 55% in 2022-23. Hairys were down from 32% to 27%. Widespread wildfires in 2022 may have contributed to this decrease in numbers.
Mourning Dove Photo: Deborah MacEwen
FeederWatch has some exciting changes coming this fall!
A team of researchers from Project FeederWatch, Virginia Tech, University of Georgia, and the Ohio State University received a grant from the National Science Foundation in the United States to investigate human-wildlife interactions through bird feeding. This grant funds a multiple year study that will look at the impacts for birds and for the people who feed birds. The research will also explore a few habitat management techniques, such as cleaning feeders and creating brush piles. In addition, the grant will fund initiatives to better include people who are under-represented in FeederWatch—such as Black, Indigenous, and people of color and disabled birders. We will be learning a lot in the coming years about how birds and people interact around bird feeders and we look forward to your participation!
This is a great year to give it FeederWatch a try – help the birds you love by counting them for Project FeederWatch. Next season starts November 1.
FeederWatch is supported by Armstrong Bird Seed and Wild Birds Unlimited. Thank you for helping to make FeederWatch possible.
Top 10 most frequently reported birds by FeederWatchers (% of sites visited)
Atlantic (NL, PEI, NB, and NS)
Black-capped Chickadee/Mésange à tête noire 97.5
Blue Jay/Geai bleu 93.4
Dark-eyed Junco/Junco ardoisé 86.8
American Goldfinch/Chardonneret jaune 85.3
Mourning Dove/Tourterelle triste 81.7
Downy Woodpecker/Pic mineur 75.1
American Crow/Corneille d’Amérique 74.6
European Starling/Étourneau sansonnet 65
White-breasted Nuthatch/Sittelle à poitrine blanche 64.7
Song Sparrow/Bruant chanteur 62.4
Black-capped Chickadee/Mésange à tête noire 98.5
Downy Woodpecker/Pic mineur 86
White-breasted Nuthatch/Sittelle à poitrine blanche 83.3
American Goldfinch/Chardonneret jaune 80.8
Dark-eyed Junco/Junco ardoisé 79.6
Blue Jay/Geai bleu 78.7
Northern Cardinal/Cardinal rouge 75.7
Hairy Woodpecker/Pic chevelu 73.3
Mourning Dove/Tourterelle triste 63.8
American Crow/Corneille d’Amérique 50.1
Black-capped Chickadee/Mésange à tête noire 95.4
Downy Woodpecker/Pic mineur 85.4
Dark-eyed Junco/Junco ardoisé 84
Blue Jay/Geai bleu 80.6
Northern Cardinal/Cardinal rouge 79.9
White-breasted Nuthatch/Sittelle à poitrine blanche 79.3
Mourning Dove/Tourterelle triste 79.1
American Goldfinch/Chardonneret jaune 78.3
Red-breasted Nuthatch/Sittelle à poitrine blanche 65.4
Hairy Woodpecker/Pic chevelu 60.9
Prairies (MB, SK, and AB)
Black-capped Chickadee/Mésange à tête noire 94.6
Downy Woodpecker/Pic mineur 84.4
Blue Jay/Geai bleu 73.3
House Sparrow/Moineau domestique 73.1
Red-breasted Nuthatch/Sittelle à poitrine rousse 67.9
Black-billed Magpie/Pie d’Amérique 67.7
Hairy Woodpecker/Pic chevelu 57.8
White-breasted Nuthatch/Sittelle à poitrine blanche 57.8
Dark-eyed Junco/Junco ardoisé 53.3
House Finch/Roselin familier 41
Dark-eyed Junco/Junco ardoisé 94.8
Northern Flicker/Pic flamboyant 87
Song Sparrow/Bruant chanteur 70.9
Varied Thrush/Grive à collier 66.3
Black-capped Chickadee/Mésange à tête noire 65.1
Spotted Towhee/Tohi tacheté 64
House Finch/Roselin familier 63.7
American Robin/Merle d’Amérique 61.1
Anna’s Hummingbird/ Colibri d’Anna 57.6
Downy Woodpecker/Pic mineur 54.8
Far North (NT, NU and YT)
Black-capped Chickadee/Mésange à tête noire 100
Common Redpoll/ Sizerin flammé 93.3
Pine Grosbeak/Dubec des sapins 86.3
Dark-eyed Junco/Junco ardoisé 80
Black-billed Magpie/Pie d’Amérique 80
Red-breasted Nuthatch/Sittelle à poitrine rousse 78.7
Downy Woodpecker/Pic mineur 73.3
Boreal Chickadee/ Mésange à tête brune 60
Common Raven/Grand Corbeau 63.8