“It is a surprise,” says Blancher, referring to data indicating that far more boreal forest birds have increased in prevalence than decreased over the past 20 years. But he adds that the data should be interpreted with some caution. With the benefit of experience from the first atlas and improved access roads in the north, atlas volunteers working in the boreal forest may have inadvertently skewed the statistics by being more efficient at surveying and finding birds in the north than their counterparts were 20 years ago.

“I’m not convinced that the high number of increasing species in the north is completely real,” says Blancher. Nevertheless, he says, “it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case that a large number [of bird species] are in trouble there.

“I wouldn’t say it’s cause for optimism or pessimism, but I would say that we have to look at change in the north with some degree of scepticism when using the atlas data.”

An overall simple pattern has not emerged,” says Cadman, reflecting on the dizzying array of findings uncovered by the atlas across the province. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite; it’s quite complicated.”

The atlas is a book without a straightforward plot. “What impresses me most is how dynamic this whole situation is,” says Blancher. “And I guess that’s cause for being careful not to assume that things will go on and on forever if we don’t do something about species that are declining. But it also means that we can be optimistic that if we do decide to do something to protect species, we have a good chance of success.”

Come out for the count

The Christmas bird “side hunt” – shooting and then counting how many different birds you could bag in a day – was an American tradition through the 19th century. It was Frank Chapman’s idea to leave the guns behind and simply count live birds instead. Chapman, an officer with the then recently inaugurated National Audubon Society, began the first “Christmas Bird Census” in 1900, and now, with more than 50,000 participating birders across North America each year, the count has become one of the biggest organized birding events in the world.

The Christmas Bird Count may be the granddaddy of bird censuses, but plenty of other events ask birders to keep score for science.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count
According to Bird Studies Canada, 119 local groups in Ontario participate in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. The count is a one-day event held sometime between December 14 and January 5. Beginner birders are encouraged to team up with more experienced hands. To participate, call the local coordinator in your area. Coordinators can be reached at the phone numbers and e-mail addresses listed on the Bird Studies Canada website at www.bsc-eoc.org/cbc/compilers.jsp?prov=on.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC )
The GBBC is a four-day event led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. Birders of all skill levels are encouraged to participate in the February event. Information can be found at www.birdsource.org/gbbc.

The Ottawa Breeding Bird Count
The Ottawa Breeding Bird Count, a program that counts birds and monitors nests within the nation’s capital, begins its field season in May. More information can be found at www.glel.carleton.ca/ottawabirds.

The Hamilton Fall Bird Count
The Hamilton Naturalists’ Club has been running the Hamilton Fall Bird Count (HFBC) on the first Sunday of November every year since 1974. Participants spend the day counting birds – migrants as well as residents – within a 40-kilometre radius of downtown Hamilton. You can obtain more information about the count at www.hamiltonnature.org/birds/fallbird.htm.

The Kingston Field Naturalists’ Spring and Fall Roundups
The Kingston Field Naturalists (KFN) have been hosting their annual spring and fall roundups since the 1960s. The roundups, conducted in May and November, are a competition to find the most bird species within a 50-kilometre radius of Kingston in a 24-hour period. Contact Kurt Hennige through the KFN information line at 613-389-8338.

The Petroglyphs Christmas Bird Count
The Peterborough Field Naturalists conduct their Petroglyphs Christmas Bird Count in early January. Beginners and more experienced birders are welcome. Contact Drew Monkman at dmonkman1@cogeco.ca.

Peter Christie


peter_christiePeter Christie is a science writer and editor whose most recent book for kids is Naturally Wild Musicians: The Wondrous World of Animal Song (Annick Press).