Counting goes to the birds
The Christmas Bird Count is in full swing in the region with volunteers taking a census of the bird population. This photo of a common redpoll was snapped at a feeder just off of Highway 518.
PARRY SOUND - Birdwatching is more than just a hobby for many local enthusiasts.
Thousands of volunteers across the country have spent close to a month heading out to popular bird hangouts to document the numbers present in their communities.
The annual Christmas Bird Count, started in 1900, is the longest running wildlife census and organizers say it provides a wealth of knowledge on population trends.
Steph Romaniuk, an organizer with the local count, said the part the count plays in conservation is interesting when you consider how it got started.
“Originally, it was go out and kill as many birds as you can and whoever has the biggest pile would win,” said Romaniuk. “It’s kind of funny because now it’s a census. People can watch their feeders and count how many they get of each species, and that’s half of it. The other half is people going out in the field.”
A project of the National Audubon Society, the count attracts more than 60,000 watchers in North America.
When all the data is compiled, it’s added to an annual report which is used in a myriad of peer-reviewed articles on the subject.
Here in Parry Sound, 25 participants took part in the count.
In the past, North Bay had the highest participation rate in the entire continent with close to 800 individuals monitoring their feeders.
Romaniuk said the consistent participation numbers in is part due to the larger appeal of bird watching.
“There’s just something about it because it’s kind of unpredictable. You never know where they’re going to be or what you’re going to see, so there’s that unpredictably that kind of makes it appealing. It’s a winter activity, something to do having the feeders at your house and being able to see the little birds and help them in the winter time,” said Romaniuk.
The count has been in full swing since December 14, and the currently available local results have seen the appearance of several new species. The total number of bird species in the area is as high as it has ever been, at 43 different birds - the previous record was 41.
“You never know what you’ll see,” said Romaniuk. “You can always get a rarity. We had a new one this year called the Carolina Wren. It’s a tiny little bird with its tail sticking straight up, and it was hanging out at a feeder just around the corner from us here.”
There have been several exciting local sightings, including a red-tailed hawk and an unconfirmed eagle sighting, believed to be a golden. Six different birds of prey were spotted.
In total, 1,632 individual birds were counted in the area, which is 200 more than last year.
Dick Cannings, Bird Studies Canada program co-ordinator, said the information gained in the count is crucial in many ways.
“This is not just about counting birds. Data from the Christmas Bird Count are at the heart of hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies and inform decisions by wildlife managers across Canada,” Cannings said.
Notably, the count revealed a significant shift caused by climate change. It has also documented the starling comeback of the Bald Eagle and the increase in waterfowl populations as a result of conservation work.