trumpeter swan and waterfowl diversity credit Noah Cole

Trumpeter swan and waterfowl diversity at Tommy Thompson Park

The annual Christmas Bird Count is nearly here!

From north of Thunder Bay southward to Pelee Island and northwest near Atikokan eastward towards Ottawa in Ontario, between December 14 and January 5, Christmas Bird Counts give bird lovers a good reason to look forward to winter.

People enjoying a great day of bird watching at Rouge Park. credit Noah Cole

People enjoying a great day of bird watching at Rouge Park

People can participate by counting birds within a 24 kilometre radius and recording the observations. These results inform long-term studies of bird migration and population trends.

Harlequin and bufflehead ducks, Sandy Beach Parquette in Etobicoke credit Noah Cole

Harlequin and bufflehead ducks, Sandy Beach Parquette in Etobicoke

Christmas Bird Counts have no cost to join and are often conducted in teams, with the assistance of volunteer local coordinators and data compilers.

Red-breasted nuthatch seen during the Westport Christmas Bird Count at Foley Mountain credit Noah Cole

Red-breasted nuthatch seen during the Westport Christmas Bird Count at Foley Mountain

The Christmas Bird Count is North America’s longest-running citizen science project. It was launched in 1900, with 27 bird watchers reporting a total of 89 species at 25 locations across North America. The Canadian pioneers who participated in counts including those in the Toronto region reported sightings of purple finches, song sparrows, blue jays, red-tailed hawks and common goldeneye ducks. These, species that can still be observed today!

Snowy owl photographed at Downsview Park, during Toronto’s 2013 CBC credit Noah Cole

Snowy owl photographed at Downsview Park, during Toronto’s 2013 CBC

In contrast, last year more than 1,500 participants, in Ontario alone, observed approximately 120 species and 640,000 individual birds, including snowy owls, great-horned owls, trumpeter swans, merlins, eastern bluebirds and a golden eagle.

For Roger Frost, a member of the Willow Beach Field Naturalists, the highlight was having the chance to see a short-eared owl, provincially listed as a species of special concern. “It was flying around a hayfield west of Port Hope at two in the afternoon,” he recalls. “It was wonderful to see this bird at close range and in good light.”

Group photo of a happy team during last year’s 2016 St. Catharine’s area Christmas Bird Count credit Noah Cole

Group photo of a happy team during last year’s 2016 St. Catharine’s area Christmas Bird Count

The counts not only provide opportunities to see a diversity of bird species, they also create a sense of camaraderie. “I always look forward to the post-count potluck supper,” says Frost. “If you’ve seen something good, you can brag about it, and if you haven’t, you can find out where the good ones have been seen.”

To find a Christmas Bird Count near you and learn how you can improve our understanding of bird species, visit Ontario Nature’s Christmas Bird Count webpage at ontarionature.org/cbc.


Noah Cole, Ontario Nature’s communications technician, is a nature enthusiast and avid bird-watcher.