There’s nothing like a bird count to inspire new and seasoned birders.
This Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) takes place Feb. 12-15 and it’s a family-friendly event for any skill level.
The GBBC helps to give a snapshot of bird life throughout Canada, the continent, and the world. Last year 5,090 species were recorded – or half of the world’s species – from birders in more than 100 countries.
Held annually since 2007, the GBBC is aimed mainly at taking stock of overall diversity in late winter, says local expert Cameron Eckert.
Participation is easy. At any time over the four days just record what you see – species and numbers of birds – for each observation period (of at least 15 minutes) and for each location. Then register and report your findings on the GBBC website.
The info-packed site has observation forms you can fill out, and resources to learn about birds, explore data or enter a photo contest.
Once the event is underway you can check out field reports on real-time, including who is birding and where.
The site also has a trip planning feature, to identify birding locales in worldwide hotspots like Costa Rica, in case you’re heading out of town.
Each year’s count brings surprising results, sometimes due to weather anomalies like the Polar Vortex. Last year’s most reported species was the Brambling – but probably because flocks of over a million of them were seen at one particular site in Germany.
Of the top 10 species reported worldwide in 2015, only the black-capped chickadee was observed in the Yukon.
In Canada, British Columbia had the most number of species at 197. The total number of species observed in winter in the Yukon is around 110.
In Whitehorse, local winter birding hot spots are open-water sites including the Yukon River (Rotary Centennial Bridge or near the SS Klondike), and McIntyre Creek on the Fish Lake Rd. Downtown near Alpine Bakery is usually good for House Sparrows, and the landfill is a gold mine for common ravens and black-billed magpies.
Boreal forests are also good birding habitats.
Feeder-watching is encouraged, so stock up on black oil sunflower seeds or use a suet feeder. Commonly seen feeder species include pine grosbeaks, crossbills, common redpolls and chickadees.
Keep an eye – and ear – out for early spring mating behaviours, says Pam Sinclair, a biologist with Environment Canada.
“Listen for a whistled ‘fee-bee’ of the black-capped chickadee on cold clear mornings,” she says. “Hairy woodpeckers may also start territorial drumming on telephone poles and dead trees.
“And look for grey jays building nests in young pine or spruce trees.”
For Yukon birding checklists, information on attracting winter birds and ideas for homemade bird feeders go to Environment Yukon’s website. The Whitehorse Public Library has some excellent guides, too.
For more information on the Great Backyard Bird Count go to GBBC.BirdCount.org. or its sponsors the National Audubon Society (United States), the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (United States) and Bird Studies Canada.