There aren’t a lot of birds around in winter. But the Christmas bird counts always generate a crowd.
First established in 1900, as an alternative to the seasonal Christmas “side-hunt,” the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is now an annual international winter bird census held in communities large and small between December 14 and January 5.
Last year, there were 12 counts within Yukon, from Watson Lake to the Tombstones. Altogether, 113 field observers and 90 feeder watchers counted 39 species and 8,571 individual birds. (In comparison, there were 266 species counted in B.C.)
The official aim of each CBC is to record every bird seen or heard over 24 hours within an official 24-kilometre-wide circle. (The center of the Whitehorse circle is the junction of Two Mile Hill and the Alaska Highway.) Time spent birding, weather conditions and travel modes (on foot, bike, skis, by car, etc.) are also recorded.
Managed by the National Audubon Society, the counts provide valuable data on winter bird numbers and distribution, which is vital for conservation plans.
“As well as providing data, the CBC is a great way to get people of all ages outside and enjoying birds, said Shyloh van Delft, president of the Yukon Bird Club that sponsors the local counts. “Most counts also involve a gathering or a potluck dinner afterwards.”
This year, counts are being planned in almost every Yukon community. You can take part individually or in a group, and in as many counts as you want.
“We hope more people will get together, this year, for these as it’s the Yukon Bird Club’s 25th Anniversary,” van Delft said.
Each count organizer, called a compiler, assigns routes to field observers and also keeps track of feeder watchers participating within the count circle. Regional reports are sent to the Audubon Society, which prepares the national and international summaries.
Common ravens and redpolls, chickadees, and pine grosbeaks are among the most widespread species counted in Yukon, while house sparrows appear mainly in Whitehorse. Mallards and mergansers are common water birds. Rarer species that show up include sparrows, and American robins.
This Sunday, van Delft will be leading the Yukon’s first CBC, this year, in Tagish, starting from the day-use area near the Tagish Bridge at 10 a.m. (Yukoners are also welcome to attend the Skagway count on Saturday, sponsored by the Skagway Bird Club.)
“We usually see between 16 and 22 species … if you’re getting into the 20s, you’re getting pretty lucky,” laughed van Delft. A recent Tagish count highlight was a Great Grey Owl.
There’s always a “little bit of excitement” around the chance to record a winter rarity,” van Delft said.
Last year she counted three brown creepers—an uncommon species similar to a nuthatch—hanging out with some chickadees.
The Whitehorse count, held every Boxing Day, is being organized by long-time compiler Jim Hawkings. Last year, 24 species were counted (including 2,204 ravens, 2,033 Bohemian waxwings and 9 spruce grouse) in -23℃ temperatures.
“Some people will bird all day and into the night (“owling”) but these events are generally low-stress,” van Delft said.
“The CBC is pretty flexible—and it’s open for anyone, of any age (#learntobird),” she said.
The Audubon Christmas Bird Count website, https://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count offers helpful information and reporting forms, as well as historical results.
Stay warm … and Happy Birding!