Christmas bird count on the Saanich Peninsula Sunday

On one day a year, birders get together and count all the birds they can within a 15 mile radius.

Birder Christian McCarty looks to see what he can find at a previous Christmas Bird Count.

The annual Christmas bird counts are back. On one day a year, birders get together and count all the birds they can within a 15 mile radius.

“So we count in the same area year after year to see what is happening with bird populations,” said Ann Nightingale, co-ordinator of the Victoria bird count and participant in the Sidney bird count.

She said the count is to look at what birds are increasing in number and what birds are decreasing. All of that data then goes into a centralized database that is kept by the National Audubon Society and Bird Safe Canada.

“By doing this consistently year after year, we get a good sense of patterns that are happening with the birds,” said Nightingale.

In its 117th year in Canada, the bird count has been going on for around 10 years on the Peninsula. For Nightingale, who has been doing this for the last 16 years, she said they are in fact seeing some changes in bird trends.

She said the numbers of Band-Tailed pigeons are decreasing, whereas a new invasive pigeon called a Eurasian Collared dove is increasing.

“We do occasionally find some rare birds on our Christmas count day. One of the ones that we’ve seen for two years in the Sidney count has been something called a Fork-Tailed storm petrel, which normally you would only see out at sea, quite far out, but for two years in a row, one has been found in the Saanich Inlet.”

Last year they saw 80 people participate in the Saanich Peninsula count and 241 in Victoria — which was the third largest group of counters in North America last year.

“So birding is very popular in Victoria and a lot of the people that live in other parts of town come out to the Peninsula to help out with the count.”

Nightingale, who lives in Saanichton, said they’re seeing huge declines in overall bird numbers and that some are doing better than others.

“So things like the Eurasian Collared dove, which was accidentally released in the Bahamas in the 1970s, has now made its way all the way north and west and is in our area and growing in numbers,” she said.

The Sea Lark however is a different story. One of what Nightingale calls the Saanich Peninsula’s claim to fame, is plummeting in numbers.

The decline in birds, she said, relates to various situations depending on specific areas. Some include collisions with man-made structures, interactions with house pets, population changes in the area and more.

“For birds it mostly comes down to ability to find food.”

The Christmas bird count will take place on the Peninsula Dec. 18. Birders will be counting on the Peninsula from Wallace Drive north.

Interested participants are to meet at the Panorama Recreation Centre parking lot at 8 a.m. There is no fee to sign up.