Ornithological groups say Victoria bird count lowest in over a decade
VICTORIA -- Local ornithological experts say that bird counts in Victoria are the lowest they’ve been in over a decade.
The annual Victoria Christmas Bird Count tallied the fewest number of species since 2007.
The count, that took place on Dec. 14, found 135 different species of birds, well below the 10 year average of 140 to 143.
Despite fewer varieties, the total number of birds counted — 78,000 — did reach the ten year average. However, organizers were hoping for more.
“We had great weather for the Christmas Bird Count this year,” said Ann Nightingale, coordinator of the Victoria Christmas Bird Count.
“A day we expected above average results and got average at best, and below average in terms of diversity, was a little bit spooky.”
The red crossbill bird, for instance, which can vary in numbers from year to year, wasn’t seen at all this year in Victoria. Nightingale says the bird's withdrawal may suggest that the overall population may be declining.
The bird count also raised concerns about a national symbol, the Canadian Geese.
“A number of groups were reporting lower numbers or sometimes no Canada Geese in their zones," said Nightingale. "We certainly still had a lot of Canada Geese but there’s something going on with them.”
Other island experts add that it’s not just winter bird populations that are down.
"We have noticed that, over the years, our migratory ducks have declined in individuals as well as diversity of species,” said Coral Forbes, program naturalist at Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary.
“We've also noticed that our spring and summer birds have declined," said Forbes.
While Nightingale points out that one bird count does not make a trend, she says she’s heard that numbers were down for other bird counts from across the island and B.C.
Meanwhile, also in 2019, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in New York released a report showing that North America has lost three billion birds, about one third of the population, since 1970.
“My concern is it's not going to take us 40 years to lose the next third,” cautioned Nightingale. "A poor Christmas Bird Count, especially across a wide area, makes me fear we’re well into losing the next three billion birds.”
“What’s going to be important is what happens over the next few years and whether this decline continues or whether this was just a bit of a slump this year,” Nightingale said.
Nightingale and Forbes both say continued habitat lose, climate change and cats are a few of the reasons why bird numbers are hurting. But, both also say there are things individuals can do to help the bird population.
"By keeping your cat inside it can really, really help bird populations," said Forbes. "By providing habitat in your yard, just by planting some native plants, and not using pesticides in your yard can really, really help the bird population."
“Make your windows bird friendly, not using glass railings, that sort of thing can really help,” added Nightingale.
As far as the larger issue of how climate change may be affecting birds, Nightingale suggests getting in touch with your local Member of Parliament to discuss concerns.