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Bird count reports

Saskatoon Fall Bird Count
12. September 2009

by Robert Johanson

Summer came in September this year. The day of the fall bird count, September 12, was a finer day then any I can recall for a fall count - sunny, warm, a slight breeze. But somebody forgot to tell the birds to show up. Many count teams commented on the lack of migrants and how quiet the woods and fields were.

It is not that there were no birds at all; after all 38,105 were counted. But the numbers for many species were down. There are 102 species that at least ten individuals on average are seen during a fall count. Of that number, 69 species had below average numbers this year. Diversity suffered as well. The total number of species identified was 131. That may seem like a lot but is in fact nearly a record low. In contrast, last year, on a less than ideal day weather-wise, a record 172 species were seen.

Most of the birds seen in quantity were the usual ones for the time of year. Geese and ducks accounted for 56% of the total number, and gulls and pigeons added another 12%. But even among the common birds there was a surprise. American Coots, which had been the most numerous bird in three of the past four years, suffered an 80% decline.

So what happened this year to produce such disappointing results? Perhaps the counters were enjoying the nice weather instead of diligently searching for all the birds. Well, I don't really believe that; all counters are very dedicated. But certain birds can be used as a check on the total effort put forth by the counters since their numbers should be stable from year to year. These include American Robins and Black-capped Chickadees and indeed these birds were about as numerous as in past years. Looking a bit more closely at the data, it becomes apparent that what was missing were migrants from the north as well as certain locally nesting birds that leave our area in early September. Warbler numbers were dismal with only 11 species seen and all but two in markedly lower numbers. Both northern and local nesting sparrows were scarce. Only two Red-winged Blackbirds and seven Common Grackles were sighted and no Yellow-headed Blackbirds. There were just a handful of flycatchers and no Catharus thrushes. Three American Avocets and only one Willet were found.

The absence of migrating birds suggest that the extended period of nice weather might be to blame. Storms and cold-spells slow the migration and trap some birds. Extended periods of good conditions for migration allow the birds to quickly leave or overfly our area. There are some indications in past counts that early winter-like weather makes for a more interesting bird count, but it is not good for the birds.

A low number of species means that few rarities were seen this year. Best birds were a Pileated Woodpecker, four Peregrine Falcons, and a Prairie Falcon.

You can download the complete tabulated report below:

Saskatoon fall bird count - September 2009September 2009 Bird Count report (530 KB)

Last updated: 23 June, 2011