Bird Count Reports

Saskatoon Spring Migration Bird Count
May 25, 2019

by John Patterson

The 2019 Saskatoon spring bird count took place on May 25th. The day was cool, windy and wet at times although for those teams that continued into the evening, conditions eased as the wind died down and the sky cleared. Some leaders noted that fewer birds than normal were singing. Despite the challenges 53 participants recorded 170 species, just two short of the long-term average* (LTA) and the overall total of 32,615 birds was the highest in a decade and 14% above the LTA. Guy Wapple’s team saw two Cackling Geese this year, adding a new species to the all-time list for the spring count.

With below normal precipitation last year and into this spring, water levels were considerably reduced. The total shorebird count, which has been low on average in recent years due to little suitable shoreline, was strong (41% above the LTA) as low water levels exposed greater expanses of shoreline habitat for feeding.

Among the other species relying on aquatic habitat a few were at or near all-time highs, including Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Red-necked Grebe. The count for the latter species continues a 30-year upward trend in abundance. In contrast, a longer list of species was at or near all-time lows (% of LTA in brackets): Redhead (31%), Ruddy Duck (29%), Pied-billed Grebe (23%), Sora (20%), American Coot (15%), Franklin’s Gull (3%), and American Bittern (0%).

Eurasian Collared-Dove numbers have been increasing since it was first recorded on the count in 2005. This year’s count of 20 is an all-time high and continues the trend. Other species counts at or near all-time highs were Sharp-tailed Grouse (61, the highest since 1970), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (22), Downy Woodpecker(21), European Starling (291), Red-winged Blackbird (2313) and Common Grackle (423).

Among the insectivores, Tree Swallow was also at an all-time high (2158) as the cool, wet weather brought them down to water bodies in search of insects. Kyron Giroux’s team estimated 500 in the vicinity of the weir. Other species though were less abundant this year compared to their LTA: Cliff Swallow (32%), Western Kingbird (37%), Warbling Vireo (29%) and Red-eyed Vireo (12%). The total warbler count was slightly below the LTA (82%), but within the normal range.

The count for House Finch (46) was the lowest since 2000 when the species was just becoming established in the Saskatoon area. The low numbers may be partly due to “House Finch Eye Disease” (Mycoplasmal Conjunctivitis) which has been noted in the Saskatoon area over the last couple of years.

Thank you to all team leaders and participants for your contributions to the 2019 Spring Count and for helping to maintain a continuous record of avian abundance in the Saskatoon area during Spring migration.

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* The average over the last 25 years: 1994-2018

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