Blair Dudeck and Heidi van Vliet joined about 100 other volunteers who participated in Nanaimo’s Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 28. The count tallied about 1,550 fewer birds compared to the 2018 count. (Kim Wetten photo)

Fewer birds tallied in Nanaimo’s recent winter count

1,550 fewer fowl counted than previous year, but there were a few unusual sightings

Nanaimo’s most recent Christmas Bird Count chalked up more than 25,000 birds, but the numbers might be signalling a slow decline in species numbers.

One hundred people on 20 teams fanned out across the Nanaimo region Dec. 28 under mostly cloudy skies with temperatures hovering around 5C and a bit of wind to see which feathered friends they could find.

This year just 113 species were tallied on count day, but that sum jumped to 122 species by the end of count week, which runs from three days before to three days after count day.

About 100 people participated in this year’s count, about the same as last year, but about 1,550 fewer birds were counted than in 2018.

Tanya Seebacher, wildlife biologist and Nanaimo Christmas Bird Count compiler, said she doesn’t have a solid explanation for this year’s numbers.

“It’s really tough to say. We had about the same amount of people out this year as we did the past two years,” Seebacher said.

Numbers of birds and species variety have dropped over the past five years.

“Obviously it’s kind of tough to point to exactly what that [cause] could be,” she said. “It could be weather. Last year there was that big storm that hit just before the bird count so that could explain why we had slightly less birds last year.”

She said some research has shown endangered and common species numbers, including shore birds and insectivores, are dropping.

“That could be related to insect populations down in South America and habitat loss with all the fires that have gone through the Amazon,” she said.

Species missing from this year’s count were the pine grosbeak, evening grosbeak, great horned owl, pigeon guillemot and black scoter.

READ ALSO: Rare bird spotted in Victoria draws enthusiasts from across the continent

There were unusual sightings, however. An American black duck was spotted swimming in the Crow and Gate Pub’s pond in Cedar. The species is generally found in Ontario.

Seebacher said a golden eagle has been seen at the Nanaimo River Estuary feeding on waterfowl there. Golden eagles normally breed in Alaska and northeastern B.C.

“Really cliffy habitat is where they normally prefer to nest,” Seebacher said.

A rough-legged hawk was also spotted at the Nanaimo River Estuary. The bird typically breeds in the Arctic but overwinters in the southern portions of Canada and the northern U.S.

Hummingbirds winter in Nanaimo if there’s enough food around, but suffer when temperatures plummet below freezing. Seebacher said. People who put out hummingbird feeders need to keep them from freezing, which might entail keeping a light bulb under the feeder to keep it warm or other methods.

“If you do have a hummingbird feeder up and [hummingbirds] frequenting your feeder, make sure you keep it thawed,” she said. “Either take in when it gets dark and then put it out at first light just to keep the ice off because … they become reliant on your feeder.”

Taking hummingbird feeders down in late September, though, is likely the best practice so that the birds move on to areas where they will find natural food sources farther south.

READ ALSO: How to keep the hummingbirds fed during a cold snap

Anyone who wants to participate in the annual bird count, but doesn’t want to go out in the field can still contribute data from their backyard. The annual bird feeder count is held the same day as count day. Count forms can be picked up at the Back Yard Wild Bird and Nature Store, located at 6314 Metral Dr.

“Any time from early December they can go in, grab a form, fill it out and either e-mail it or you can drop it back off at the bird store and that data gets added to the Christmas Bird Count,” Seebacher said.
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