By Kerrie Wilcox, Great Backyard Bird Count Coordinator and Canadian Lead for Project FeederWatch, Birds Canada
Half a million people from 202 countries were out birding February 17-20, 2023. Birds truly brought the world together for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).
Participating Countries: 202
eBird Checklists: 390,652
Merlin Bird IDs: 372,905
*For more highlights from around the world, visit 2023 GBBC Final Results.
In four days, Canadians counted 253 species and entered 33,000 checklists and 25,000 Merlin Bird IDs. This is remarkable! Every province and territory participated! Our thanks to every person who shared eBird checklists, Merlin Bird IDs, and photos during the event. See checklist and species numbers in your province or territory online.
We hope you enjoy some highlights of birds seen across Canada during the 2023 GBBC.
Wood Duck. Photo: Allan Bigras, QC Macaulay Library.
British Columbia had a strong year with 6,097 checklists and 5,735 Merlin IDs submitted, and 197 species observed. Some notable highlights included a flock of 2,500 Bohemian Waxwing in Prince George. This flock has been delighting birders throughout the winter. Thirty-seven Black Oystercatchers at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal was another notable sighting. Four species of grouse were recorded: Ruffed, Spruce, Sharp-tailed and White-tailed Ptarmigan. A Yellow-headed Blackbird in Kelowna was an exciting report. They typically winter in southwestern United States and Mexico.
Over 2,400 bird checklists and 2,190 Merlin IDs were submitted during the 2023 GBBC tallying 90 species. Some unusually high numbers of early spring migrants were detected across the province including several flocks of Cedar Waxwings, American Robins and American Goldfinches. Alberta also played host to good numbers of Snowy Owls. Many urban areas with fruiting trees had sizeable flocks of Bohemian Waxwings – including a flock of 1,000 birds in Sherwood Park. Some of the more unusual species found over the weekend included Gyrfalcon, Northern Hawk Owl, and Rusty Blackbird.
Great participation in Saskatchewan again this year with 828 checklists submitted, 618 Merlin IDs, and 66 species observed. Some rare highlights included a Rusty Blackbird in Leader, Saskatchewan. This bird should be in wintering areas, which extend from South Dakota and Massachusetts south to Texas and Florida. A large flock of 17 American Robins was reported south of Saskatoon, which is an exceptional number in winter. Two Willow Ptarmigan were reported at the northern edge of the province – a first for the GBBC. A Red-bellied Woodpecker was recorded in Regina and has been around since October 2022. This is a rare bird in Saskatchewan any time of the year!
Bohemian Waxwing. Photo: Markus Wellmeier, BC Macaulay Library
Participants in Manitoba submitted 1,079 checklists and 985 Merlin IDs, and reported 72 species. Highlights include a Northern Cardinal in Steinbach – while there is a small population resident in north Winnipeg, they are very rare in the rest of the province. Spotting a Varied Thrush in Winnipeg is a rare occurrence but they are a regular winter visitor in Manitoba – far east of its range on the west coast of British Columbia. A Red-bellied Woodpecker also in Winnipeg was far north of its typical range. A Red-headed Woodpecker, although a regular species in summer, is rare in winter. This particular individual is an immature bird that has been noted by a number of birders in the Winnipeg Beach-Matlock-Dunnotar area. Two American Tree Sparrows were reported at Oak Hammock – very rare in winter, but seems to have settled in at the local feeders. A Tundra Swan has been overwintering on a ditch at Oak Hammock with an artesian spring keeping it open– the first truly winter record for Manitoba.
Ontario had the highest number of checklists with an impressive 14,614. One-hundred and fifty-three species were recorded, and GBBC participants submitted 10,913 Merlin IDs. Several surprisingly large flocks were recorded, including:
- a raft of 5,000 Canvasbacks seen from the Long Point Bay overlook at Birds Canada headquarters,
- 4,000 American Crow in Pleasant Park Community Gardens in Ottawa, and
- an impressive 1,850 Sandhill Cranes in Norfolk.
Some rare visitors included a Lewis’s Woodpecker, Manitoulin, an Indigo Bunting, and a Peel (which usually winters in central Mexico to northern South America, or from eastern coastal Mexico through Costa Rica). A Lesser Yellowlegs, near Rondeau, was a surprising sighting (as this species typically winters from the southern United States through much of Central and South America). And a Black Vulture was spotted in Bracebridge, which is rare at any time of the year as they typically live in southern and eastern United States south through Mexico and Central America to southern South America.
Participants in Québec entered an impressive 4,963 complete checklists and recorded 125 species and 2,537 Merlin IDs. Participants documented a very early large flock of 1,500 Snow Geese in Le Haute-Saint-Laurent, likely early migrants. A large flock of 600 Bohemian Waxwings was spotted in Vaudreuil-Soulanges.
Some surprising sightings include a flock of 10 Tufted Titmice in Roussillon, a Rusty Blackbird in Brome-Missisquoi, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler in Le Haute-Saint-Laurent.
Willow Ptarmigan. Photo: David Turgeon, QC Macaulay Library
New Brunswick participants entered 732 checklists and 642 Merlin IDs, and recorded 101 species. It was a quiet year throughout the maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island for irruptive finches. Irruptive finches are birds that respond to cone and seed crops in northern boreal areas. In years of low crops, they move south. As a result, fairly low reports of Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls were recorded during the GBBC.
Five owl species were reported in the province: Barred, Great-horned, Short-eared, Northern Saw-whet, and a Snowy Owl. A large flock of 500 Long-tailed Duck was observed in the Bay of Fundy as well as a large flock of Bohemian Waxing (200) in Charlotte, and Evening Grosbeak (100) in Port Elgin. An unexpected Pine Warbler was reported in Saint John – one of the few warbler species that can stay in north through winter. In the Moncton region, several Arctic breeding songbirds that winter in New Brunswick were reported, including the Snow Bunting and Horned Lark.
Nova Scotian’s entered 1,653 checklists and 982 Merlin IDs for the GBBC and recorded 138 species. Participants reported several exciting, rare birds including a Red-shouldered Hawk (which usually spends winters in southeastern United States, with some going as far as Mexico). An exceptional rare sighting was a Gray Heron – this is only the second recorded for Nova Scotia, as it is a rare visitor from Eurasia. Another notably rare visitor was a Long-billed Dowitcher in Halifax (which is rare at any time of the year for the region).
Some unusual overwintering birds included a Yellow-headed Blackbird, a Baltimore Oriole, and 15 Yellow-rumped Warblers. Nine Eastern Bluebirds was an unexpected high number. A surprising number of Killdeer were seen during the GBBC, suggesting this species might be starting to return early in migration.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Three-hundred and thirteen checklists, 123 Merlin IDs, and 88 species were recorded from Newfoundland and Labrador. Surprisingly, two overwintering warblers were reported in St. John’s: an Orange-crowned and Yellow-throated Warblers. This may be the second winter for the Yellow-throated Warbler in the area. A Northern Cardinal, way north of its typical range, was reported in Stephenville.
Pink-footed Goose is a very rare visitor to Newfoundland from nesting grounds in Greenland. This goose has been in the region since 2019 when he arrived on a ship.
Black-capped Chickadee. Photo: Shirley Rushforth Guinn, MB Macaulay Library
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island participants entered 172 checklists (a 22% increase in checklists from 2022) and 123 Merlin IDs and observed 66 species. Birds like Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings along with American Robins that feed on fruiting shrubs in the winter were being seen in lower numbers this year, likely due to low fruit and berry crops after hurricane Fiona. Some interesting reports include a pair of Norther Cardinals in Rosebank, Queens, and a Great Blue Heron also in Queens. Cardinals are expanding their range as they are benefitting from backyard landscaping and bird feeders. The Great Blue Heron was reported near Queens during the GBBC and has been hanging around all winter.
Because it has been a warm winter, there were some interesting flocks of ducks in the open water. A flock of 750 Long-tailed Ducks was reported at East Point, as well as 230 Black Scoters, 140 Common Goldeneye, and two Red-throated Loons.
In the far north, Yukon Territory participants submitted 147 checklists (an astounding 84% increase from 2022) and 23 Merlin IDs and observed 34 species.
Northwest Territory participants recorded 13 species on eight checklists.
Nunavut participants recorded two species on two checklists.
Some interesting high counts included 35 Pine Siskins in Whitehorse and 28 Willow Ptarmigan in Yellowknife. A Northern Hawk Owl was found in the Northwest Territories. And to cap it off, a very rare visitor from Eurasia – a Brambling – was found in Haines Junction, Yukon.
Keep Counting with eBird Canada!
Please keep observing and reporting birds! Just go directly to eBird.ca to submit checklists using the same username and password you used for the GBBC. The data-entry process is the same. Please keep reporting birds—you can do so from anywhere in the world at any time of the year!
The next GBBC is February 16-19, 2024
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon with Canadian partner Birds Canada.
Thanks to our sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited for helping to make the GBBC possible.