Christmas Bird Count 2014: Downy’s and Hairy’s and Grebes, oh my!

by Lucy Patterson

Lucy Patterson is a an OFNC member and a PhD student in Biology at the University of Ottawa. Peter Lin very kindly provided the photos.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Sunday, December 14th, 2014, over a hundred birders dug out their binoculars, bird guides and datasheets, and headed out to count every feathered creature they could find in the Ottawa area. It was the day of the 2014 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in Ottawa, and the weather was near perfect: temperatures hovering around zero, and no wind or precipitation.

The CBC is an annual survey run by the Audubon Society. Now in its 115th year, it is the longest-running citizen science program in the world! From December 14th, 2014 to January 5th, 2015, citizens will be counting birds in over 2,300 locations across the Americas. The count provides valuable information about increases or declines in bird populations over time and space.

The OFNC has taken part in the CBC since 1920, and has partnered with the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais in recent years. It is currently coordinated by the OFNC’s Bernie Ladouceur. Overall, the Ottawa count covers the area within a 12-km radius centred on the Peace Tower. This area is divided into six sectors (Gatineau, Hull, Aylmer, Britannia, Ottawa and Gloucester) and participants are assigned to a smaller area within one of the sectors. At the end of the day, the datasheets from each team are handed in to the sector coordinator, and the data are tallied at a compilation dinner.

This year, roughly 27,000 individual birds of 77 different species were observed. Although the numbers are still preliminary, the general findings are as follows. 2014 was a record year for woodpeckers: records were broken for downy, hairy, and pileated woodpeckers; and tied for the red-bellied woodpecker. This may be related to rising levels of the emerald ash borer, a wood-boring beetle living under tree bark, in the region. Record highs were also found for white-breasted nuthatches, white-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, northern cardinals, wild turkeys, and gray catbirds.

Also notable was the first-ever record of a black-crowned night heron during a CBC in Ottawa. There were additionally some tied records: northern saw-whet owl, rose-breasted grosbeak, and pied-billed grebe.

The highest number for any species recorded in Ottawa in 2014 was for American crows (8,827), although this falls short of the 2008 record of 21,000. Canada geese, gull and finch numbers were lower than average. Finalized totals will be posted on the OFNC website in the New Year.

The OFNC Birds Committee organizes a number of birding events. Any club member interested in participating in any of these activities can read more about them at www.ofnc.ca/birding.php.

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Photos by Peter Lin

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