Birds will have eyes on them

By: Carl Clutchey, Local Journalism Initiative, Chronicle-Journal with local notes from RMG

If the lenses on your binoculars are due for a polishing, now would be a good time to bring out a fresh cleaning cloth.

Next week is the start of the 124th annual Christmas Bird Count, a roughly three-week, continent-wide event that helps naturalists across North America have a handle on which species are thriving or in decline.

“It’s a good example of community-based science,” Lesley Rudy, a network organizer for environmental
advocate, Ontario Nature, said on Thursday.

Nature groups across Canada will participate including bird watchers in McBride.

The McBride Christmas Bird Count is Sunday, Dec. 17th (or Dec. 16). Their 23rd Annual count is part of the
North American Christmas Bird Count, started in 1900. North America’s longest-running Citizen Science project, the Christmas Count is held in more than 2000 locations throughout the Western Hemisphere.

If you would like to help, pre-register with your location, and if your count day will be Saturday or Sunday. Feeder Watchers are very important to the count, says organizer Elsie Stanley, and are encouraged to spend 10 or more minutes outside, or at the window, to get a count number that is as accurate as possible. Any birds seen during your count day may be reported, and anything unusual during the Count Week, Dec. 13 – 19. Especially needed are watchers who will walk/ride/snowshoe/ski through a territory. To participate, phone Elsie at 250 569 2596 or [email protected].

Though participants don’t have to be experienced bird- watchers, and can take part individually, Rudy says it’s a good idea to coordinate with an official group to prevent overlap.

Counters can also sign up directly with Birds Canada, one of the event’s main organizers. The agency is located in Port Rowan, Ont., a town on Lake Erie.

Another major organizing agency is the National Audubon Society, which is based in New York City.

“Information collected by thousands of volunteer participants forms one of the world’s largest sets of
wildlife survey data,” a Birds Canada backgrounder said. “The results are used by conservation biologists,
environmental planners, and naturalists to assess population trends and distribution of birds.”

Previous studies on Canada’s bird populations have shown “shorebirds, grassland birds, and aerial insectivores have rapidly declined, while waterfowl and birds of prey populations have recovered from historical lows.”

Participants in the bird count observe and count for a single day only.

During last year’s Canadian count, more than 3.2 million birds were reported, consisting of about 280 species. The top 10 most abundant species from highest to lowest were American Crow, Canada Goose, Mallard, Dark- eyed Junco, American Wigeon, Bohemian Waxwing, House Sparrow, Dunlin, Snow Goose, and Rock Pigeon, according to Birds Canada.

No new species were added to the all-time Canadian list, which remains at 439 species, it added.

In his recent newspaper columns, Brian Ratcliff has been highlighting species of note that have appeared in the Thunder Bay area, including the diminutive Brewer’s Sparrow, “which was probably the best bird as it was only the second record ever of this species in Ontario.”

Sandy Barro said she and her husband recorded about 15 species during last year’s count just west of Thunder Bay, including bald eagles, a peregrine falcon and a White- Winged Crossbill.

“It is special to see something you don’t normally see,” said Barro, who often bird-watches near her Pass Lake home.

More information about the Christmas Bird Count and how to participate is available on Bird Canada’s
website at or contact Elsie Stanley at 250 569 2596 or [email protected].