Juncos plentiful in Christmas bird count

Low fruit crop impacts robin numbers

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Verified numbers for the annual Christmas Bird Count on Salt Spring are in, revealing the dark-eyed junco and chestnut-backed chickadee as the two most commonly spotted species. 

Volunteers who went out to count birds for the 31st annual event on Dec. 15, 2019 tallied 1,202 junco sightings in total, followed by 902 chestnut-backed chickadees. The next two most numerous species were the Canada goose (759) and the bufflehead (664). 

Tim Marchant, who coordinated the island’s bird count for many years and still compiles the data, reported that overall, the 2019 numbers were less than seen in the past.

“For three years running now, we are on the low side of our average for the total count,” Marchant said. “This year we tallied 10,885 birds, while the average for the past 10 years is 12,849.”

Marchant suggested the 2019 result may be due to the number of counters (104) being around 10 per cent lower than usual. 

“The average count per observer remains, very roughly and with huge individual variation, 100 [birds per person].”

Some variations on individual birds spotted include 20-year highs for a number of water species, including the Pacific loon, horned grebe, Brandt’s cormorant, Barrow’s goldeneye and the black oystercatcher. Also seeing 20-year highs were land-based species downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, white-crowned sparrow and red-winged blackbird. Most surprising perhaps was the increase in American goldfinch sightings from zero in the previous three years to 40 in 2019.

Marchant notes Anna’s hummingbirds stabilized at 130 to 170 each year for the past several years, after increasing from zero in 2004 to 100-plus in 2012. There were actually 186 counted in 2019. 

In contrast, fewer robins (432) and cedar waxwings (two) were seen, with numbers “way off” their highs of 2013. Marchant suggested a low fruit crop in 2019 may have been the reason. 

Salt Spring’s Christmas Bird Count is done in conjunction with citizen science initiatives taking place all over North America around the Christmas season. Tallies from different subzones on the island are incorporated into the official data sets of counts based in North Saanich, the Cowichan Valley, Pender Island and Galiano Island.

For more on this story, see the Jan. 29, 2020 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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