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Bird count looks for feathered friend trend

The St Catharines Standard,
By Karena Walter,
January 3, 2016

If people are seeing fewer birds at their feeders this winter over last, they’re not alone.

Participants in the annual St. Catharines Christmas Bird Count saw 16,000 individual birds, almost half as many as the average.

Organizer Marcie Jacklin of the Peninsula Field Naturalists said they expected more of the northern species to have arrived in the area by count day, which took place Dec. 20.

“This is a trend we’ve been seeing for several years now. We’re not really losing species, but we’re losing numbers of birds,” she said.

Jacklin said that could be due to loss of habitat because of development pressure on woodlands and wetlands, which was noticeable in all the areas volunteers counted.

“Every year there seems to be a big impact. If I was to chart everything out I would see the slow decline in just about every species, some more than others. Where we used to get 10 of something, we get one now.”

At the same time, she said the annual volunteer data collection is not science and is meant to help with long-term trends.

“It’s not a science, it’s citizen science,” Jacklin said. “We’re just looking for trends because you have different counters, different weather conditions, there are so many factors that can change it.”

The Peninsula Field Naturalists have been holding the count since 1982. Forty-one participants counted 75 species in St. Catharines over the course of the day.

Across Ontario, thousands of volunteers held similar bird counts staring on Dec. 14 and are continuing until Jan. 5.

Ontario Nature, a charitable organization, said 4,100 Ontarians participated in 114 Christmas bird counts last year.

The St. Catharines Christmas bird count found 30,303 birds in 2014 but counted only 15,000 in 2013.

Jacklin said the average since 1982 is 27,063 birds a year.

The beauty of the count, she said, is that people participate all over the province so there’s a huge pool of information available.

“It gives the true scientists an opportunity to see if birds are expanding or contracting,” said Kayo Roy, organizer of the Niagara Falls Christmas Bird Count. “Are they staying further north where they migrate all due to climate change or are they moving back down?”

The Niagara Falls Nature Club held its count on Dec. 27 but Roy said results weren’t in yet. The club’s count included areas in Ontario and New York, drawing volunteers on both sides of the border.

Roy said he believed the numbers would be down because it was raining all day Dec. 27 and it was foggy, making it harder to spot birds.

He predicted the waterfowl count would also be lower due to open waters north of Niagara that haven’t frozen over because of the milder winter.

That’s what Jacklin’s teams found in St. Catharines where Canada Geese weren’t as numerous as previous years.

Another decrease in St. Catharines was the number of Carolina Wren, making participants wonder if recent hard winters led them to stop overwintering in Niagara. But other species like woodpecker seemed to be OK.

Feeder birds also seemed to be decreasing and Jacklin said it could be due to less people feeding birds because seed is so expensive.

Port Colborne had its count Saturday. Its results are also not final, but organizer Drew Campbell said 33 species were spotted, when about 60 is normal.