Before the start of the 20th century, hunters would join in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” They would split into teams, then go off and shoot as many birds as possible. The team with the most dead birds won. Thank goodness today’s hunters are more responsible than back then!
What Is A Bird Census?
Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, concerned about the recklessness of the Side Hunt, American birder and ornithologist Frank M. Chapman introduced a “Christmas Bird Census.” This new tradition would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them. Today the “Christmas Bird Census,” now called the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), is a valuable way for scientists and conservationists to track species numbers. Here in Belleville, we continue on with the tradition.
The Belleville CBC was held on December 27 under partly sunny skies, with temperatures below zero degrees and virtually no snow on the ground. Twenty-eight bird watchers formed ten different teams to search for and count every bird they could find within the Belleville 25 km count circle. My group of six took on the northwest section of the Count Circle, an area which included Foxboro, Wallbridge and Chatterton.
We looked everywhere we thought birds would be hiding. We found Pigeons on top of farm silos, Chickadees, Goldfinches and Juncos at backyard feeders, Woodpeckers on trees, a Bald Eagle soaring over the Moira river, Mourning Doves huddled together in backyards and, the best of all, colourful Pine Grosbeaks feeding on fruiting trees.
After a long day searching and counting birds, the 10 teams met at a restaurant in Belleville to eat pizza and tally up the total number of birds seen. Together the 28 participants managed to find 58 different species of birds. This included a rare Northern Goshawk, five Barred Owls and two Peregrine Falcons, the latter species having returned to their winter perch on the new Belleville Courthouse.
How Does Our Tally Compare?
This is an above average species tally, the average being about 50 species. The total individual count of birds was also above average at 8,309. It’s noteworthy that 27% of the birds counted were introduced to North America, including House Sparrows, European Starlings, Rock Pigeons and Mute Swans. These species were introduced to North America from Europe in small numbers for various reasons, and they all found conditions favourable to spread across much of the Continent.
We set new high counts for a number of species including four Bald Eagles, seven Red-bellied Woodpeckers and 81 Cardinals. Both Mallard (695) and Canada Geese (2,072) were higher than average, likely because of the milder weather conditions, which allowed parts of the Bay of Quinte to remain ice-free. Notable lows of 116 Cedar Waxwings and just three Robins may have been due to the locally poor crop of Cedar berries in the Quinte area this year.
In addition to seeing 58 species of birds we also saw two “count week birds,” recorded either three days before or three days after Count Day. Those two species were a visiting Snowy Owl on the Bay of Quinte and a Song Sparrow. This year’s Christmas Bird Count was an enjoyable day of getting out into nature for the day with fellow birders, counting birds for conservation, then having a fun evening of inhaling calories and exhaling tall tales.
Tom’s Birding Tip of the Month:
With the coldest days of the winter now upon us, it’s important to keep those backyard feeders stocked up for our little feathered visitors.
Here are some eBird checklists with photos attached.
Pine Grosbeak by Tina Sawicki
Northern Goshawk by Kyle Blaney
Cardinal, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker by Kyle Blaney