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