Bird Count

Ice storm fouls up Hamilton's annual Christmas bird count

Icy conditions and downed trees made the trek difficult and have resulted in lower-than-expected numbers for some species of birds.

Snowy owls spotted in Dundas and Burlington

The Snowy Owl has been spotted in Burlington and Dundas. (Roy Rea/UNBC)

Downed debris and power outages weren’t the only ways in which last weekend’s ice storm has cast a pall on the holidays.

The wild weather also fouled up the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club annual bird count.

Dozens in Hamilton set out into the bitter cold on Thursday for the survey, in which Steeltown birdwatchers romp around a designated area of land recording all the birds they see.

However, icy conditions and downed trees made the trek difficult and resulted in lower-than-expected numbers for some species of birds, said Tom Thomas, local bird count co-ordinator and member of the Hamilton Naturalists Club.

In some parts of the city, he said, ice coated tree branches and bushes, trapping berries that birds would normally eat. Researchers spotted a number of birds nibbling on food that had fallen into the road.

Winds from the bay also disrupted counts for duck and geese.

“We need a calming effect to get a good count on the lake,” Thomas said.

Some species were 'well represented'

The ice storm also made it difficult for birders to access harder-to-reach areas, he added. 

“Some of the pathways in the woods were ice-covered and slippery."

He said it’s too early to tell precisely how much the weather has affected this year’s count. Thomas, whose Carlisle home was without power until Thursday night, is still receiving data from volunteers and will be compiling the information into next week.

But early indications show that, while counts for some species were low, other birds were “well-represented,” he said.

“It looks like people are seeing a lot of blue birds around,” he said. “People are also seeing a lot of snowy owls around in Dundas and Burlington.”

The annual count, Thomas said, is for a good cause — to assess the health of bird populations. This bit of citizen birding, which happens across North America, helps drive future conservation efforts. Bird Studies Canada and the National Audubon Society collect the data.

“Hamilton is one of the best places for birds,” said Thomas. “We probably have some of the best birding places in Ontario.”

To conduct the survey, birders cover a 12-kilometre radius around Dundurn Castle. The area is carved into sections so participants can do “a good count in six hours,” Thomas said.

Some get up as early as 3 a.m. to do it.

“It’s like fishing,” Thomas said. “You never know what you’re going to get. We’re always looking for that special bird to show up.”

Recently, the National Audubon Society used bird count data to measure the impact climate change has had on bird populations.

This is the 114th Christmas bird count. It’s held each year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.