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Christmas Bird Count in Hay River finds higher numbers

This black-billed magpie was spotted on Dec. 19, the day of the annual Christmas Bird Count in Hay River.
photo courtesy of Gary Vizniowski

Ravens were back at the top of the annual Christmas Bird Count, held on Dec. 19 in the Hay River area.

In the previous count, the number of common ravens had plummeted because volunteer counters were not allowed into the Hay River landfill site following a dump fire earlier in 2019.

They were allowed back in for last month's count.

That meant that 251 common ravens were spotted, compared to just 30 in the previous count.

There were 728 birds of various species counted on Dec. 19, compared to 348 in the previous count.

"The number of ravens was up, but so were the redpolls and the Bohemian waxwings," said Gary Vizniowski, the compiler for the Christmas Bird Count in Hay River.

"There's just more redpolls around this year than normal," he said.

The number of common redpolls went from 96 in 2019 to 140 in 2020, while the number of hoary redpolls increased from seven to 15.

The number of Bohemian waxwings rose from 70 in 2019 to 126 in 2020.

"There's always that number out there, but we don't always see the big flock," said Vizniowski.

About two-thirds of the overall increase in the number of birds was accounted for by spotting more ravens.

Vizniowski noted the total number of species was 15, which is about average.

No grouse were counted, which he believes was because of cold weather.

Vizniowski also noted the numbers of house sparrows and evening grosbeaks have continued to decline over the years, and none were counted on Dec. 19.

Three out-of-season species were counted – the common grackle, dark-eyed junco and American robin.

Twelve volunteers participated in the Christmas Bird Count, an increase from the 10 in the previous count.

Most of the volunteers watched their bird feeders, while two drove around the community.

"That's part of the reason why numbers are up," said Vizniowski. "There were more people looking."

There was no one counting on the Hay River Reserve. That was out of respect for K'atlodeeche First Nation's request that people stay off the reserve – unless going to the Ehdah Cho Store – because of concerns about Covid-19.

A Christmas Bird Count has taken place in the Hay River area in most years since the 1970s.

The count, which must take place between Dec. 14 and Jan. 6, is part of an international conservation initiative.

In the Hay River area, it takes place within an unchanging designated circle, which is 24 km in diameter and centred near the Hay River Regional Health Centre.

Fact file
The totals for the Christmas Bird Count in Hay River on Dec. 19 include:

251 – common raven

140 – common redpoll

126 – Bohemian waxwing

59 – pine grosbeak

55 – black-capped chickadee

31 – black-billed magpie

16 – boreal chickadee

15 – hoary redpoll

10 – hairy woodpecker

8 – downy woodpecker

5 – red-breasted nuthatch

5 – Canada jay

5 – dark-eyed junco

1 – common grackle

1 – American robin


728 – total birds counted


15 – total species counted