Almost 10,000 birds tallied in annual count

Published on January 10, 2017

A bird count is kind of like a census for birds.

Each year Ken McKenna and a reliable list of volunteers count the birds in a 15-kilometre circle that takes in Pictou Harbour and surrounding areas tallying what they see.

He admits Jan. 1st when they held this year’s bird count wasn’t the most pleasant day with rain making it less comfortable for those counting as well as keeping some birds from being seen as easily.

With the harbour open from ice, the birds were less concentrated in the water as well.

Still he and about 30 others were able to count close to 10,000 birds.

There was nothing extraordinarily exotic seen this year, although there were some less common sightings including a wood duck in the harbour and a pine warbler at a feeder in Pictou.

“We do get pine warblers from time to time, but they are a little less common,” McKenna said.

There was also a mallard/black duck hybrid counted in this year’s count. McKenna said that black ducks and mallards are actually known to interbreed quite often. He said for instance sometimes you’ll see a black duck with green on its head.

He said there was still a good number of doves and the pheasant population is continuing to rise with 126 spotted this year.

Sparrow numbers were way down this year, but he said that might have more to do with the weather than an actual population change.

“You tend to see sparrows better when there is snow on the ground as opposed to ground.”

There wasn’t a great variety among finches this year either and while he knows there are pine grosbeaks in the area, they didn’t see any on the day of the count. There were also no evening grosbeaks to be seen.

There was a good variety among the gulls sighted. While gulls might look all the same to the average person, with a bit of practice and study, he said birders can learn to differentiate.

“You can just go down to Glasgow Square and look out on the ice and see at least three or four different types of gulls,” he said.

While he never saw it, McKenna was able to confirm the presence of a saw whet owl for the count. He said he went out at midnight and played a tape with the bird’s call on it and got a response from the owl. He tried for other varieties of owls without any luck before heading home for a couple hours of sleep prior to his morning search of other birds.

The information collected will now go to a national database where people will be able to look back in the future and learn what the weather was like, what birds were present and what changes have occurred.