The number of birds calling Alberta cities “home” during the winter is continuing to rise, according to the results of this year’s Christmas Bird Count.
According to Chris Fisher, author of the book Birds of Alberta, there was a stunning number of waterfowl – geese and ducks – recorded in the Calgary area during the 2017 bird count this past weekend.
“Over 25,000 individuals, about 12,000 of those were mallards, a common duck around here,” Fisher said.
“But incredibly, over 11,000 Canada geese were seen in the Calgary area this past weekend.”
Fisher said seeing geese around Calgary in winter is “no longer a surprising sight” as it may have been 30 years ago because warmer weather offers them more food and spots to rest.
“That’s probably an indication of overall warmer winters, more open water on the Bow River, and also more feed in the open fields with less snow cover,” he said.
Along with the thousands of geese, the volunteer bird counters recorded 20 different types of waterfowl around the city.
Ravens a ‘good omen’ at West Edmonton Mall
The city of Edmonton continues to have surprising bird numbers as well, especially the now-famous ravens that have been causing a stir at West Edmonton Mall.
“The big tower at West Edmonton Mall is one of the largest things on the landscape and it’s really attractive to a whole bunch of ravens, so we’re seeing hundreds of individuals roosting there,” Fisher said.
“In fact, this past weekend the Christmas Bird Count in Edmonton tallied up 525 ravens throughout the Edmonton region and the core concentration seems to be the monolith in the west end.”
He added that in the mid-80s, bird watchers would be lucky to find two or three ravens during the Edmonton Christmas count.
The ravens breed in the mountains and the boreal forests located to the north and west of Edmonton, but migrate down to the city as the cold sets in and find a nesting spot at the large tower. Fisher added the nearby landfill is also a major attraction for the birds.
“I think it’s a pretty good omen that we do have ravens increasingly hanging out in Edmonton during the wintertime, the most famous ravens in the world are located at the Tower of London, and they are seen as a great omen,” Fisher said.
History of the bird count
The Christmas Bird Count is an adaption of a decades-old tradition that started out as a Christmas “side hunt,” Fisher said, where after their Christmas dinner, people would go out shooting all types of birds, including raptors like hawks and owls.
In the mid-1800s, the tradition was changed to more of a census, counting the number of birds living in each city.
“One of the most wonderful things about the Christmas Bird Count, and strange things, is it is the time of year that more people go out looking for birds than any other time of year,” Fisher said.
“So we have all sorts of people trudging through the snow, through their back alleys and parks and woodlands in the cities all across North America looking for birds in the depths of winter.”