Bird Count Reports

Saskatoon Spring Migration Bird Count
May 2005

by

Robert Johanson

The weather for 2005 spring bird count again proved less than ideal. The day dawned to a cold, annoying drizzle although conditions did improve in the afternoon. Despite the weather, over 40 thousand birds were counted, well above the average. Large numbers of Stilt Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, gulls, and swallows helped swell the totals. However, only 165 species were identified, well below the average.
Aside from the weather, another factor affecting the results was the timing of the migration. Observers in the U.S. noted that the migration was running late this year especially for the smaller songbirds. Warblers certainly were scarce on count day; only ten species were found and the numbers for these were below average for all but the locally nesting Yellow Warbler. Our resident sparrows were less affected as they were found in typical numbers, but the sparrows that migrate through Saskatoon, such as White-throats or Lapland Longspurs, were almost completely absent. Non-migratory birds such as the Black-billed Magpie or early migrants such as the American Crow are not affected by a late migration, and most were as abundant as on previous counts.
Certain real trends in bird populations can be seen in the count data. Birds species that depend on water for habitat were strongly affected in the past several years by the drought. The abundance of water this year has resulted in a rebound in their numbers. For example, in 2003, when many sloughs were dry, only 25 Eared Grebes were counted. Last year that number increased to 293, and this year increased again to 1579. Other birds dependent on wetlands had also suffered declines in the dry years and not all have recovered. Yellow-headed Blackbirds, which build their nests in the cattails, have been only half as abundant as ten years ago. Yet despite the filled sloughs, their numbers did not increase on this year’s count.
Numbers of soaring hawks were down, not surprising given the weather. Birds that relish overcast, drizzle, and low pressure were out in force as I discovered while looking out over Blackstrap reservoir at 6:30 in the morning. What seemed like gnats flying over the water were thousands of Bank, Barn, Tree, and Cliff Swallows catching their breakfast of flying insects.
A remarkable number of rare birds were seen this year including Trumpeter Swan, Cinnamon Teal, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sabine’s Gull, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Say’s Phoebe. The swan, the two gulls, and the dove are particularly noteworthy as they are new to the spring count. By far the most important statistic is a new high count for Common Raven!
I apologize for the extreme delay in preparing this report. I had wanted to do a more in-depth analysis of the past 15 years of count results, but this project proved too lengthy. Once the University’s fall term began, I had to set the report aside.
You can download the complete tabulated report below:

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Saskatoon, SK S7N 4J8