Le compte des oiseaux à Noël: une tradition de longue date


Ce projet populaire depuis 99 ans nous est expliqué par David Christie.

Dans cet article, nous apprenons l'histoire de cette tradition, comment ce mouvement a grandi, ainsi que les nombreux bienfaits qu'il offre à tous ceux qui s'y engagent.










































Blue Jay, also very widespread
in N.B.

(photo: D. Christie)














When the results are brought together with those of surrounding areas, there is a big enough sample to allow year to year and region to region comparisons for many species


















The Christmas Bird Count
A Long Tradition

   David Christie
  Moncton Naturalists' Club,
  New Brunswick Federation of Naturalists
  October 1999 updated. Originally written 1994


o natural history project is as well-known to so many people in North America as is the Christmas Bird Count. A lot of people know only that it is an annual activity of birdwatchers, but many thousands are very familiar with what's involved because they have taken part in this ninety-nine year-old project.


The Black-capped Chickadee is one of the most widespread species in 
New Brunswick during winter


(photo: David Christie)

In 1900, Frank Chapman, editor of Bird-Lore magazine, wrote:

"It is not many years ago that sportsmen were accustomed to meet on Christmas Day, 'choose sides' and then, as representatives of the two bands resulting, hie them to the fields and woods on the cheerful mission of killing practically everything in fur or feathers that crossed their path - if they could... Now, Bird-Lore proposes a new kind of Christmas side hunt, in the form of a Christmas bird-census, and we hope that all our readers who have the opportunity will aid us in making it a success by spending a portion of Christmas Day with the birds and sending a report of their 'hunt' to Bird-Lore before they retire that night." (Bird-Lore 2:192.)

Thus went the announcement of the first Christmas Bird Census, a project very much in keeping with Bird-Lore's motto: "A Bird in the Bush is Worth Two in the Hand." The following issue of the magazine listed 25 censuses, of which one was from New Brunswick. At Scotch Lake, York County, William H. Moore had gone out from 9 to 10 a.m. on Christmas Day 1900, and recorded 36 birds of nine species.


(graph: David Christie)


Growth of the Count

From that small beginning, Christmas Bird Counts have become an exceedingly popular activity, involving thousands of persons. Now, over 1700 North American counts are published each year by the National Audubon Society (700 Broadway, New York, NY 10003), and a good many more appear only in local journals, such as the N. B. Naturalist / Le Naturaliste du N.-B. As it grew, the Christmas Bird Count became more formalized, with various rules being set, such as 15-mile diameter circles, minimum 8-hour counts, count periods, and tallies of party-hours and party-miles of effort.

The counts now provide not only a sporting pastime for the participants, but a great amount of data about the early winter birdlife of this continent - data which illustrates the changing distribution and abundance of birds and, indirectly, of the health of our environment. A count is a day of fun and exploration outdoors, of enjoying nature, of companionship and sharing with others. It may involve friendly rivalry – competition between friends or between counts - but the principal objective is to cover a standard area, a 24-km-diameter circle, as completely as possible, tallying all the birds encountered, on one day during a period set each year by the Audubon Society.

Usually, the circle is divided into sectors, each covered by a party of one or more observers. Often, there are also people reporting the birds they see at their bird feeders or around their home. At the end of the day, sometimes at a potluck supper attended by many of the participants, the results from each party and feeder are combined to give totals for the whole area. Care is taken to avoid duplication, where the same birds may have been counted by more than one group. When the results are brought together with those of surrounding areas, there is a big enough sample to allow year to year and region to region comparisons for many species.

The Christmas Bird Count 
in New Brunswick

One might have expected William Moore and others to have followed up the good, early start in New Brunswick, but such was not the case. Although the name Christmas Census was applied to some reports in 1908 and 1924, by involving more than one day they cannot be considered normal counts. The second actual Christmas Count [the first one similar to today's counts] in New Brunswick did not take place until 1937, at Kent Island off Grand Manan. From the mid 1940's through the early 1950's there were sporadic counts at a few places in the southern half of the province. From 1956 through the 1960's, encouraged by the late W. A. Squires through his provincial museum newsletter, Nature News, counts were conducted annually in an increasing number of New Brunswick areas. Now, in the late-1990's, about 1000 participants spend 1500 hours afield, travel about 13,000 km and report from nearly 500 bird feeders in 45 areas of the province. Usually, they find a total of from 120,000 to 140,000 birds of about 125 species. Over the years, 210 species have been reported on count day by New Brunswick Christmas Counts with an additional 15 found during the count period.

Winter is a difficult time for birds in New Brunswick. The weather is often severe and the food supply limited. Most insect-eating birds and many waterbirds migrate south to milder climates. Those that remain with us or come here from farther north are hardy birds able to withstand cold temperatures, if they can obtain enough food. Our winter birds survive by feeding on fishes, molluscs, seeds, fruits, the dormant stages of insects, or small mammals and birds.

During winter, the variety of birds in most habitats of New Brunswick is small. However, their numbers vary considerably from year to year; if a particular food, for instance spruce seeds, is in good supply certain species may be numerous. (That was the case in the winter of 1998- 1999.) Urban/suburban areas with lots of trees, shrubs, and bird feeders, and mixed and coniferous forests offer the best inland birding at this season.

Fresh water and the sea along the northern and eastern coast of the province are mostly frozen except where there are strong currents or warm water discharge from an industrial plant. The Bay of Fundy remains unfrozen, except for loose, shifting ice floes in its upper reaches. The outer bay has varied populations of waterbirds in winter, but elsewhere interesting locations are few and variety and numbers small.

The ten most numerous land birds recorded on Christmas Bird Counts in New Brunswick from 1991 through 1995 were: European Starling, Black-capped Chickadee, Evening Grosbeak, Common Redpoll, Rock Dove, Snow Bunting, American Crow, American Goldfinch, Mourning Dove and Blue Jay. Numbers of Snow Buntings and especially of Common Redpolls vary greatly from year to year. In fact redpolls often will not be among the ten most common and Tree Sparrow will. Of these birds, only Black-capped Chickadee and Blue Jay are likely to be reported on almost every count, as is the less numerous Common Raven.


The totals counted are usually higher than any other species
in New Brunswick


(photo: David Christie)

Among water birds, the ten top species were: Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Eider, American Black Duck, Oldsquaw, Common Goldeneye, Iceland Gull, Mallard and Razorbill. Over the years, New Brunswick counts have revealed population changes in many species. Mainly there are annual fluctuations of moderate proportions, but some species, especially the finches, exhibit periods of scarcity punctuated by "invasion" years, when they are much more numerous than usual. Long-term increases or declines of certain species may be apparent to birdwatchers, but the Christmas Bird Count permits a numerical expression of these changes and suggests less obvious trends that we might otherwise overlook.

In New Brunswick Christmas Counts the most conspicuous changes have been a four-fold increase in Evening Grosbeaks during 1960-85 and of Bald Eagles since 1985 and the appearance and subsequent considerable increase of Mallards and Mourning Doves since the mid-1960's, and of House Finches since the late 1980s. On the other side of the coin, a few Gray Partridge were seen regularly 1960-68 but only once since. Smaller changes are indicated for Blue Jay (70% increase 1960-72), Common Raven (50% increase 1960-72, 25% decline 1972-85), Black-capped Chickadee (50% increase since 1985), Boreal Chickadee (65% decline 1975-85), and House Sparrow (70% decline since 1985).

(photo: Mary Majka)


Birders scanning the mouth of Letete Passage at Greens Point in the Blacks Harbour count area


And so it is, that this Christmas season, we will once again follow Frank Chapman's suggestion to "hie [us] to the fields and woods" to "spend a day with the birds" and report our results. Snow, rain, high winds, or bitter cold won't stop us; buoyed by the birdwatcher's perpetual hope of making a discovery, we'll be continuing a long tradition!