Christmas Bird Count
Christmas Bird Count
The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is an annual count of late-December birdlife, taken between December 14 and January 5. The tradition began in 1900 in the United States when ornithologist Frank Chapman organized 27 friends in 25 locations (including Toronto) on Christmas Day. Instead of shooting birds in the annual holiday event called the “side hunt”, they counted them. Today over 60,000 people participate at over 2,000 locations across Canada, the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and it is the largest and longest-running wildlife survey ever undertaken. The data are gathered by the National Audubon Society and used to approximate the densities of wintering bird populations and keep track of cyclical movements of birds and their extent. A typical example is the southward movement (irruption) of some northern owls and finches during certain winters.
During Christmas Bird Counts, volunteers count all wild birds they see or hear in a single day within a predetermined area 15 miles (24 km) in diameter. The count covers every type of bird habitat and the birders travel by whatever means are necessary to cover their count circle. Each census is carried out under specific guidelines. Numbers of individual birds of all species encountered are recorded and the habitats, weather, number of counters, and miles travelled (normally by car and by foot) are noted. Bird feeders within the circle are also censused. The count day typically ends with a gathering of the participants, during which an official tally is compiled, the day’s events are recounted and food and refreshments are consumed. Additional species observed during count week are added to the species total. In Canada alone, almost 12,000 people participated in 382 counts in 2009, with approximately 3.2 million birds of 379 species tallied.
Christmas Counts Locally
The Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count has been held every year since 1939 except 1944. In Thunder Bay, the count is held every December 26, with a wrap-up pot luck dinner held that night. Count date for other communities in the northwest varies somewhat depending on the year and participant availability.
Christmas Bird Counts are also held in other parts of the District of Thunder Bay and provide a regional picture of winter bird activity. These counts have included: Atikokan, Dryden, Ear Falls, Fort Frances, Gameland, Grand Marais, Ignace, Kenora, Manitouwadge, Marathon, Morson, Nipigon, Pickle Lake, Red Lake, Rainy River and Vermilion Bay-Eagle River.
The Thunder Bay count circle is centered close to the junction of the Harbour and the Thunder Bay Expressways (see map to the right). The circle is divided into 14 units and field teams go into each unit. There are also feeder watchers who participate from the comfort of their homes. About 30 observers take part annually. All birds are counted that day, plus count week bird species for three days before and after count day.
The Thunder Bay record is 53 species and 16,668 individual birds counted in 1994.
Why not join us on our Christmas Bird Count?
Held every year on Boxing Day, 26 December. We welcome your participation even if you are a begining birder! It’s a great way to learn more about our winter bird populations in a friendly atmosphere.
As with all CBC’s, the count area is a standardized 24 km diameter circle. The Thunder Bay count circle is centred just west of the Thunder Bay Expressway and the Harbour Expressway intersection. The circle includes Current River as the east boundary, Melbourne Road to the north, Nicholetts Road on the west, and Loch Lomond Road as the southern boundary. (Click here to see map.)
The count circle is broken up into 14 different areas, and teams of birders spend the day checking each area to see how many species and total birds they can find. There are also a few people who just watch their feeders and submit the results. This year, the count would like to increase the number of feeder watchers who submit observations. If you live within the circle shown on the map, the count organizer would like to hear from you.
Feeder watchers will need to submit a bird species checklist that also includes the start time, end time, and total number of hours spent watching. The number of birds recorded on the checklist is not additive, and instead is based on the highest number of birds of each species seen at any one time. So if a feeder watcher saw 4 black-capped chickadees at one point in time and 6 at another, the total count for the day would be 6 black-capped chickadees, the highest count.
Anyone interested in participating as a feeder watcher or getting out and joining a group needs to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
2020 Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count (Click to Expand)
The 81st Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count (CBC) occurred during the year of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. This year was not the first year the Thunder Bay CBC had taken place during a pandemic. Past global pandemics have included the 2009 H1N1, the 1968 H3N2 and the 1957-58 H2N2. The difference in 2020 was that on count day, Ontario declared a State of Emergency and a stay-at-home order. As a result, the count adjusted to a safe feeder watcher approach and normal area routes were cancelled. Because of the altered effort, this year’s count is reporting only a species list and will not be reporting an individual count number as in past years. The species list was built using bird reports from individuals, feeder watchers, eBird, and NWO Birds.
Count day for 2021 was a cloudy day with light snow occurring throughout the day. The day time high was -8 C and the day time low was -9 C. Winds were considered a gentle breeze out of the WNW. Temperatures themselves were similar to the 2018 count. A 33 cm snow fall had accumulated throughout the 22nd and 23rd of December and was sharply followed by low temperatures which subsequently froze the waterfront area and Kaministiquia River, leaving few opportunities for waterbirds once viewing opportunities resumed.
For count day (on December 26th), 42 species were counted. This was the most species counted since 2016 (51). For count week (23-29th) the total was 45 species, making it the lowest count week since last year but still higher than 2018 and 2017. The 10-year average for count week is 49 species.
Good birds for the count included a count day Rough-legged Hawk (15 counts, last in 2019), Golden-crowned Kinglet (9 counts, last in 1010), House Finch (14 counts, last in 2017), and many Northern Cardinals (19 counts, last in 2019. Good birds for count week (birds not seen on count day) included a Hoary Redpoll (16 count weeks, last in 2017), Sharp-shinned Hawk (5 count weeks, last in 2008), and an American Three-Toed Woodpecker (22 count weeks, last in 2019).
All Areas except for 7 and 12 reported some species for count day or count week. The highest count total for an area was Area 13 with 25, followed by Area 1 with 20, and Area 9, 11, and 14 reporting 19. However, feeder counters reported the most species with 27, hopefully a trend we can continue or better yet expand upon in future counts.
Species that were missed in 2020 included Boreal Chickadee (56 count weeks), Glaucous Gull (37 count weeks), Purple Finch (38 count weeks), Mallard (29 count weeks and Brown Creeper (32 count weeks). All of these species had been reported in 2019, except for Mallard, it was last reported in 2016. Important to note, the Thunder Bay Waste Facility was not visited, which is the best gull viewing location. Those species, as well as American Black Duck which has not been reported since 2014 (27 previous count weeks) are good species goals for next year.
I wish to thank all of the participants that attended the 81st Thunder Bay CBC. Particularly the Area Leaders that did a tremendous amount of preparation for a count that was adjusted at the last minute. As well as all of the feeder watchers that helped contribute to the strong species list that was built for this year. Here’s hoping for a better count next year.
Submitted by Bill Greaves
The results can be found by clicking here
2019 Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count (Click to Expand)
The 2019 Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was the 80th in its history. This year’s weather was wet and foggy. Participants searched for birds in a heavy fog throughout the day, with at times heavy rain or freezing drizzle occurring throughout much of the day. The wind was light and out of the east, peaking for a short time at 17 km/h. The high for the day was +1.8 C and the low was -1.2 C. A recent warm spell had allowed some of the harbour front as well as sections of the Kaministiquia River to become ice-free for waterbird viewing opportunities. Effort was fairly strong, with the highest reported total km (1101) covered by foot and car of any count.
For count day (on December 26th), 40 species were counted, making it statistically low compared to the last 10 years. It was also the lowest since 2018 (41) but it did have more species than 2017 (36). For count week (23-29th) the total was 46 species, making it the highest number of count week additions (6) since 2005. The 10-year average for count week is 49 species.
As per usual, the count circle was subdivided into 14 areas within the 24 kilometre (15 mile) diameter count circle. Forty-five volunteers ventured into the fog to search for birds. Overall, the total number of birds counted (7175) was just below the 10-year average of 7383. There were record-high individual counts for Bald Eagle (283), American Goldfinch (332) and Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored: 108) and record tying for Pileated Woodpecker (17). There were also statistically high counts for American Robin (168) and Red-breasted Nuthatch (110). Conversely, there were statically low counts for Downy Woodpecker (34) and Hairy Woodpecker (25).
For rarities, a Great Black-backed Gull, a first-ever for the count, was found at the waterfront in Area 3, as well as a Ring-billed Gull, which is only the second time the species has been counted since 1982. Area 3 also reported a count-week Gyrfalcon on December 24th.
The highest species count by area was 23 species in Area 11 (Mapleward west), followed by 21 in Area 3 (Port Arthur), and 19 in Area 13 (Jumbo Gardens). The average species count for an area was 15. Lowest species total was Area 4 (Innercity) and Area 7 (Mission/McKellar Islands) with just 10. Area 10 had an unusually low species count of 16, which was statistically low compared to the last 10 years. Highest individual bird count was in Area 11, which is often the case because it includes the John Street landfill. Area 5 (1440) and Area 11 (1759) had statistically high individual counts compared to the previous 10 years. Lowest individual count was Area 8 (Fort William First Nation). Areas 1, 3 and 14 had statistically low individual counts. Feeder watchers counted 16 species.
Perhaps the most impressive species missing from the count was Pine Grosbeak for the first time ever! Not only was the species missed on count day but also all of count week! Additionally, Bohemian Waxwing (53 previous counts), Brown Creeper (28 previous counts), Mallard (28 previous counts), and Black-backed Woodpecker (23 previous counts) were not observed.
Seven mammal species were observed, including 71 Red Squirrels and 64 White-tailed Deer. Other mammal sightings included Eastern Gray Squirrel, beaver, otter and a coyote.
I wish to thank the participants that attended the 80th Thunder Bay CBC. Also, thank you to Sue and Mike Bryan for hosting the potluck supper and compilation after the count, and to all the volunteers that helped make the dinner and cleanup run so smoothly! Until next year!
Submitted by Bill Greaves
Addendum: 8 January 2020
Following the final results posting on January 5th, 2020, a Gray Catbird report was received for the count. The bird was first seen coming to a feeder in Area 4 on December 7th, 2019 and was seen on count day as well. Gray Catbird has only been reported on one other count, in 1997. A rare bird report has been filed which includes a photograph of the bird. With the addition of the Gray Catbird, the total number of species for count day is now 41. That makes this year’s count total within the realm of a normal count compared to the last 10 years, rather than 2019 being a statistically low count. In addition, the Gray Catbird increases the count week total to 47. The summary sheet (link above) has also been updated to reflect this addendum.
2019 NWO Christmas Bird Count Summary (Click to Expand)
Click here to open the PDF file.
2018 Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count (Click to Expand)
The 2018 Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count (CBC) marked the 79th in its history. The weather for the day was about average. The morning was chilly and damp with a low of -16.3 C. The wind tried to pick up in the morning but halted early and it warmed up throughout the day to a high of -8.5 C. Sunny skies provided great viewing conditions for the 61 birders that got out with area leaders, making this year’s CBC the highest attended, surpassing 2016’s 46 volunteers.
Despite the great viewing conditions and the record number of birders, the general consensus of December birding also continued for count day and count week. For count day (on the 26th), 41 species were tallied marking it the lowest since the bitterly cold 2017 (36) and 2013 (39). For count week (23-29th) the total was just 43 species, which is considered a significantly low count week total. The 10-year average for count day is 47 species and for count week 50 species.
As usual, the 61 birders were subdivided into 14 areas within the 15-mile diameter count circle. Amongst the field parties, the counts were more even across areas than in past years. The highest species count was 22 and that was tallied in Area 1 (Current River), Area 11 (Mapleward west), and Area 13 (Jumbo Gardens). Next highest was Area 9 (Mountain Road/Loch Lomond) with 21 species and Area 7 (Chippewa) with 20 species. The average species count for an Area was 18. Lowest species total was Area 4 (Innercity) with just 9. Highest individual bird count was in Area 11 (Mapleward west), which is often the case because it includes the John Street landfill. Lowest individual count was Area 6 (McKeller and Mission Island). Feeder watchers counted 16 species.
Where were the birds? It’s actually kind of tough to sort out. Overall, the total number of birds counted (6909) was just below the 10-year average of 7718. For that 10 year span, it’s actually the median count. There were also significantly high counts of Bald Eagle (169), Downy Woodpecker (61), Pileated Woodpecker (17 – record tying), Boreal Chickadee (6), White-throated Sparrow (5), and Dark-eyed Junco (30), the latter 3 species also being good birds for the count. And there were also rarities, including both Area 2 and 3 reporting the Townsend Solitaire (7th time counted on the CBC) that had been spending the fall and winter at Marina Park. Area 12 (Golf Links and west to Mapleward) was rewarded with early hour owling and reported a Great-horned Owl (9th count) and a Barred Owl (7th count). Area 11 also reported a count day first, a Long-eared Owl, previously only counted during count week in 2016.
No bird species that were counted were counted at significantly lower numbers than normal. European Starling was the most counted species (1275), followed by Rock Pigeon (1194) and Black-capped Chickadee (788).
Obviously some species were absent. Some more common CBC bird species that were not counted included Evening Grosbeak (first time since 1956), Common Grackle (41 count weeks, last reported in 2016), Snowy Owl (50 count weeks, last reported in 2015), Purple Finch (37 count weeks, last reported in 2017, White-winged Crossbill (36 count weeks, last reported in 2017), and Mallard 29 (29 count weeks, last reported in 2017).
Eight mammal species were observed, with 91 red squirrels topping the list. 74 white-tailed deer were seen. Other mammal sightings included eastern gray squirrel (and black variant), red fox, snowshoe hare, gray wolf tracks, otter tracks, and small rodent tracks.
The total count can be viewed in table format by clicking here.
I wish to thank the participants that attended the 79th Thunder Bay CBC. Also, thank you to Nick Escott and family for hosting the potluck supper and compilation after the count, and to all the volunteers that helped make the dinner and clean-up run so smoothly! Until next year!
2017 Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count (Click to Expand)
The 78th Annual Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count was a cold one. Owlers that started at 7AM christened the count at -30.3 C, which was the coldest start since 2004. For the 43 birders that were out during the day, the temperatures did not warm up much more, reaching a high of -23.3 C, making this year’s count the coldest since 1993.
It was not just that the air temperature was cold, winds in the 30km/h range made it feel more like the mid -40s. That did not stop the birders however; total effort was almost exactly the same as last year despite the cold. Kudos to them! The extreme cold weather arrived on December 20th, just prior to count week, and likely pushed some species out of the area just prior to count week, such as waterfowl. It also likely contributed to birds being less active than usual in order to try and conserve energy and stay warm.
What did the weather mean for count day? Birders managed to scrounge up 36 species of birds. The 10-year running average for count day is ~49 species, making this years count quite low, in fact the lowest since 1995. The total number of birds seen was 4877, which is about half of the 10-year average, and the lowest since 1986. Count week (+/- 3 days) provided 6 additional species but still less than average. Some birds that were missed included; Glaucous Gull, it was seen during count week but missed on count day for the first time since 1995, Common Goldeneye was also missed for the first time since 2004. Other unusual absentees for the count included: Boreal Chickadee (49 counts), Purple Finch (34 counts), Mallard and Snow Bunting (28 counts).
Only 681 European Starlings were counted, an average count number is ~2200, and only 3 Pileated Woodpeckers were recorded, the lowest number in 17 years. Some birds did not seem to mind the cold though, Black-capped Chickadees, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and Bohemian Waxwings were pretty much at average count numbers or slightly higher. Four Brown Creepers was unusually high and the amount tied the record with four other count years. Six White-throated Sparrows was also abnormally high, with the average only 1 in years that the species is recorded.
There were only three unusual bird species for the CBC in 2017. A count week Boreal Owl was only the third record for the CBC in its 78 years. A Brown Thrasher that has been reoccurring throughout fall and winter was also counted on count day, which is only the eighth time the species has been counted. A White-crowned Sparrow that had been present since December 5th was spotted by a feeder watcher on count day. This is only the seventh record for the species, the last one coming in 2014. The 43 birders were subdivided into 14 areas within the 15-mile diameter count circle. Amongst the field parties, the highest species count was Area 5 (Westfort area) with 20 species, followed by Area 10 (Broadway Avenue area) with 19 species and Area 13 (John Street/Government Road Area) with 15 species. Highest individual count was Area 5 with 1050 total birds. Increased number of feeder watchers helped pitch in with 16 species of birds and the only group that counted Grey Jay, House Finch and White-crowned Sparrow. Four mammal species were observed, 38 red squirrels topping the list. Only 12 white-tailed deer were seen. Other mammal sightings included eastern gray squirrel, red fox, and snowshoe hair. The total count can be viewed in table format by clicking here. I wish to thank the participants that attended the 78th Thunder Bay CBC. Also, thank you to Sue and Mike Bryan for hosting the potluck supper and compilation after the count, and to all the volunteers that helped make the dinner and clean-up run so smoothly.
For a summary of other 2017 Christmas Bird Counts around Northwestern Ontario click here.
2016 Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count (Click to Expand)
For the 77th Annual Thunder Bay Christmas Bird count, a record 46 birders subdivided into 14 groups combed the 15-mile diameter count circle searching for the usual regular count day birds as well as the unique and truly rare occurrences for the late December event
In what seems typical fashion, the weather was unpredictable. Following a blustery and blizzard-like conditions on Christmas Day evening which lasted until the wee hours of the morning, birders ventured out in rain, sleet, freezing rain, snow, and a general decreasing temperature trend throughout the day. For most areas, the conditions meant that feeders were bountiful with active birds seeking food following the storm. The Christmas Day storm followed what had been 10 days of cold weather that allowed the harbour to finally freeze and forced many late waterfowl migrants to travel south just prior to count week.
For count day, birders ended up positively ID’ing 51 species. The 10-year running average for count day is ~48 species, making this years count day better than average. The total number of birds seen was 9860, above the 10-year average of 8694.
Unusual absentees for the count included Northern Shrike (seen on 56 counts; last missed in 1986) and American Black Duck (only missed 4 times in the last 20 years). Other more common species that were missed included: Boreal Chickadee (49 counts), Common Grackle (38 counts), and Northern Goshawk (22 counts). A count of only 2 Mallards was unusually low (a normal year has been about 66 since last missed in 1993). Record high counts also included 55 Common Mergansers (previous record was 21 in 2007), 1564 American Crows (last years record was 1521).
Unusual birds for the CBC included 5 Short-eared Owls (record 5; recorded only on 3 other counts), 1 Carolina Wren (second record since a count week bird in 2006), and 4 Ring-billed Gulls (first record since 1982). There were also two new species added to the Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count; Slaty-backed Gull and Chukar (Exotic/Feral). This brings the CBC bird list up to 122 species (+ two morphs).
Amongst the field parties, the highest species count was Area 10 with 28 species, followed by Area 11 with 23 species, and Area 12 and 14 with 22 species. Highest individual count was Area 11 with 2268.
Seven mammal species were observed, 96 red squirrels topping the list. Only 39 white-tailed deer were seen, down from previous years but consistent with last year. Interesting sightings included two Otter’s and two sets of Grey Wolf tracks.
The total count can be viewed in table format by clicking here.
I wish to thank the record number of participants that attended the 77th Thunder Bay CBC. Also, thank you to Sue and Mike Bryan for hosting the pot-luck supper and compilation after the count, and to all the volunteers that helped make the dinner and clean-up run so smoothly.
2015 Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count (Click to Expand)
On our traditional count day, December 26, a hardy group of 42 observers in 14 groups scoured the 15-mile diameter count circle and counted any and all birds (and mammals) that could be seen or, in the case of the birds, heard.
The weather was a bit challenging, with light snow on and off most of the day, a cold on-shore breeze from Lake Superior, which remained mostly open water, and a high temperature of -7° C.
Nevertheless, a total of 49 bird species was tallied, plus one distinct subspecies, an Oregon Junco. This total is right on the average for the past 10 years. The record high species count was 58 species in 2006.
The total number of birds was 7821, a bit below the past 10-year average of 8760, which was somewhat surprising given the exceptionally mild weather we had experienced leading up to count day. Except for Common Redpolls, winter finches were in lower than normal numbers. Other species that have seen higher counts in the past, although they vary from year to hear due to weather conditions and observer effort, include Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, European Starling, and House Sparrow.
Record high counts were recorded for Bald Eagle (246), Glaucous Gull (23) and American crow (1521). Two new species were added to the cumulative list, Long-eared Owl (previously “count week” only), and Eastern Towhee (probably seen before, but previously lumped with Spotted Towhee as “Rufous-sided” Towhee). Other highlights included a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Townsend’s Solitaire in Vickers Heights, a female Ruddy Duck in the harbour, and a female Harlequin Duck in the Kam River, photographed by Mike Childs.
Amongst the field parties, the highest species count was by Brian Ratcliff and Nancy Parish in Vickers Heights with 24 species, closely followed by Sue and Mike Bryan in the Current River area with 23, and Jeremy Bryan in the northern segment of the circle with 22 species.
Eight mammal species were observed, 104 red squirrel topping the list. Only 33 white-tailed deer were seen, down from previous years. An otter was seen in the McKellar River, and most unusual was an Eastern Chipmunk on First Street.
I wish to thank all the participants who braved the weather to make this another successful bird count (our 76th!), also Sue and Mike Bryan for hosting the pot-luck supper and compilation after the count, and Debbie and Cathy for helping with the dinner. See you all next year!
2013 Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count (Click to Expand)
This year we had 33 observers in the field, and 5 people sent in counts from their bird feeders. It was a cold day, with a low of -28C in the morning, which felt even colder due to the wind, and a high of -14C. There were up to two feet of snow cover, and as a result we tallied very few ground-feeding birds, and those almost all at feeders. The coniferous cone crop was almost completely absent, but there was a bumper crop of Mountain Ash fruit, which surprisingly remained mostly untouched. All water was frozen.
These conditions resulted in a very low count this year, of both species and total individuals. Total species was 40 (see separate list) and total birds came in at 6505 (the averages for the previous 10 years are 49 species and 10,294 birds). This was our lowest species count since 1999, and the lowest total of individual birds since 1986!
The field group with the highest species total was Jeremy Bryan’s team (Rachel Bryan and Myles Falconer) in Area 14, the north segment of the count circle, with 21 species. Next was Area 10, Vickers Heights, with 20 species, covered by Brian Ratcliff and Moyra Hamilton.
No new species were added to the cumulative list this year. Highlights were a Barred Owl in Vickers Heights and a Northern Hawk Owl on Mountain Road. A new record high count was set for only one species – Fox Sparrow, with two birds spotted at different feeders in Area 14 (previous high –one!) The 2 Northern Goshawks and 4 Brown Creepers tied the previous records. The only finch in good numbers was American Goldfinch, with most of them seen at feeders.
“Lowlights” were many, including only one Evening Grosbeak, one Bohemian Waxwing, and no redpolls, siskins, or crossbills. Totals for many other species were lower than usual.
Count Week species, i.e. species seen in the 3 days before or after Dec 26, but not on count day, were Ruffed Grouse, Red-tailed Hawk, and Snowy Owl.
Thanks to all participants for getting outdoors to count birds despite the cold temperatures, and to Sue and Mike Bryan, and Debbie and Cathy, for hosting the pot luck dinner after the count.
Nick Escott, Compiler.