Over 2,400 birds of 50 species spotted at annual Christmas bird count

Seventeen red-bellied woodpeckers were counted at the annual Mindemoya Christmas bird count. photo by John Savage

CENTRAL MANITOULIN – Over 2,400 birds—2,433 to be exact—of 50 species were counted on the 47th annual Mindemoya Christmas bird count held on Saturday, December 19. The species count was above average and was seven better than last year.

“This was the COVID year and distancing rules hampered the count,” said Chris Bell, bird count compiler. “Some of the usual birders had to miss the event, and others were assigned to unfamiliar areas. Face masks interfered with binoculars.” 

Thirty-two feeder watchers took part this year. There were 21 birders, including two new recruits, in the nine traditional areas including the Lake Huron shoreline hike.

“No rare birds were found, but interesting birds included a chipping sparrow, a breeding plumage bird at Willy Maenpaa’s feeders, and a rusty blackbird in the southwest area,” Mr. Bell added.

Most numerous birds this year were the 425 black-capped chickadees, 374 blue jays, 329 common ravens (a record high number) and 304 European starlings.

Horned larks are not unusual but a freshly hit road-killed bird near Providence Bay was the only one unlucky enough to make the list. More raptors than usual were counted this year. A sharp-shinned hawk checking out the feeder birds in Providence Bay and watched by Willy Maenpaa was only the fourth count sighting in 47 years. A northern harrier and two merlins were also unusual. The bald eagle count was low again this year. There were no owls.

The larger lakes and bays were ice free and small numbers of ducks were located.

Count day was just above freezing, with light winds but dull with periods of rain and snow. Snow cover was three to 17 centimetres. Many observers noted the absence of birds in the countryside. High numbers in November had dropped in December.

Bohemian waxwings, pine grosbeaks and evening grosbeaks, all missing last year, are settling in to spend the winter. Smaller winter finches were common redpoll and American goldfinches and a single pine siskin but no purple finches. Three common grackles and the rusty blackbird were the only blackbirds. Sparrow numbers were also down with few tree sparrows and dark-eyed juncos, two white-throated sparrows, one white-crowned sparrow and the rare single chipping sparrow.

The 32 feeder watchers reported 30 species. Newly recruited Mindemoya feeder watcher Maja Mielonen reported no fewer than 17 species including the rusty blackbird and the pine siskin in her garden. She wins the 2020 award for the most successful bird feeder.

The following is a full list of the birds: two Canada geese, 20 black ducks, 95 Mallard ducks, two buffleheads, 17 common goldeneye, nine hooded mergansers, 44 common mergansers, six red-breasted mergansers, seven red-necked grebes, 10 ring-necked pheasant, four ruffed grouse, three sharp-tailed grouse, 48 rock pigeons, 101 mourning doves, 53 herring gulls, two common loons, one sharp-shinned hawk, 11 bald eagles, one northern harrier, four rough-legged hawks, 17 red-bellied woodpeckers, 35 downy woodpeckers, 34 hairy woodpeckers, 10 pileated woodpeckers, two merlin, two northern shrike, 390 blue jays, 175 American crows, 331 common ravens, one horned lark, 444 black-capped chickadees, 32 red-breasted nuthatch, 47 white-breasted nuthatch, 306 European starlings, 29 bohemian waxwing, 10 evening grosbeak, 24 pine grosbeak, 15 common redpoll, nine American goldfinch, one pine siskin, 30 snow buntings, seven American tree sparrows, one chipping sparrow, two white-throated sparrows, one white-crowned sparrow, eight dark-eyed juncos, one rusty blackbird, three common grackles and 25 northern cardinals.