(Report written by Russ McGillivray, Christmas Bird Count Co-ordinator;
the Dark-eyed Junco image is by Paul Blayney)
The 120th annual Christmas Bird Count is run by the Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. Counts can be done on any single day between Dec 14 and Jan 5 and are conducted within a circle of diameter 24 km (15 miles). This year we counted on 2020 January 04, marking our 28th count as several years were missed. Since 1987, the UCFN/HN have been responsible for the Caledon circle, which includes Orangeville.
Weather was around zero degrees and overcast all day. Unfortunately, still bodies of water, such as in the gravel pits, were frozen. The species count was 38 (5 year average of 40) with 3,301 individuals (lowest since 2013; average 4,235).
We had 33 observers (a record) in our six sectors and all together the parties logged 54 hours and 718 km. Areas 1, 3 and 4 were split into two separate teams each and the feedback is that this worked well.
- New to the Headwaters Nature 2019 count were Green-winged Teal (male and female) and a pair of feral Mute Swans. Other good finds were Brown Creeper (5, tying the record), two Great-Horned Owls (last counted in 2011), and 14 Ravens (tying record). We also had Northern Flicker (1), Belted Kingfisher (2), Robin (29), Cedar Waxwing (67), Golden-crown Kinglet (3) and House Finch (27).
- Notable misses were Pileated Woodpecker (last zero count was 2012) and Northern Shrike (last zero count was 2015). Purple Finch (7) was the only winter finch. The only hawks were Red-tailed (8) and Cooper’s (2).
What does our own count data tell us about trends in bird populations of common (or once common) species? I compared the average count for the first five years (1987-91) with the last five years (2015-19) where the birds were counted in all five of the baseline years.
- Declines of 50% or more: Ruffed Grouse, Rough-legged Hawk, Blue Jay, Chickadee, Cedar Waxwing, Cardinal, House Finch, Purple Finch, Evening Grosbeak and House Sparrow.
- Increases of 100% or more: Canada Goose, Mallard, Wild Turkey, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Crow, Raven, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Robin.
- No big surprises for anyone who has been a birder for a couple of decades, but there are obviously a number of causal factors at work. Overall, the number of species has gone down by 10% and the number of individuals counted has gone down by 8%.
We’ll hope to see even more counters next year! It’s only necessary to be interested and committed to the counting — and appropriately dressed! We spread around our ‘experts’ amongst the rest of us!