Birders needed for annual count

By Lindsay Ducharme

Calling all bird watchers, the Fort McMurray Christmas bird count is right around the corner and organizers are seeking local volunteers to take count on December 15th.

“The Christmas bird count happens all over north American between December 14th and January the 5th,” explained Simone Marler, Fort McMurray bird count organizer.

“The Christmas bird count is 114 years old in North America. It is really important is because it is a contribution we can make as ‘citizen scientists.”

Marler explained that it was through observations and data collected during citizen counts, which led to the discovery years ago that bald eagles numbers were rapidly declining due to DDT. “It was the citizen scientist, the counters in some of the Christmas bird counts that were the first to pick up that their numbers were in decline.“

Marler, an active “birder” for over 35 years, stressed the simplicity of participating in the count as a feeder watcher, noting the only requirement is increased observance.  “There are a lot of people in Fort McMurray who have bird feeders, so for those people who are already feeding the birds anyway, on the 15th get your coffee, your binoculars and your bird book and sit there and pay attention for a few hours.”

“We would really love to have people help us out because people really do know a lot more about birds than they imagine they do,” she continued.

While many may assume the harsh Fort McMurray winter climate may put a damper on bird watching, Marler said the season is actually beneficial to bird watchers.  “What’s neat about Fort McMurray is that it’s very different from the prairies because you are in the Boreal forest.  In the summer many of the birds in the region are small and may be difficult birds to see, you have to rely more on your ear. What is really cool about birding anywhere in Canada is birding in the winter.  In the winter all the leaves are off the trees and all of the birds are very visible.”

Marler said those participating in the count should expect to see all the normal birds they are used to seeing at their feeders, such as black-capped chickadees, the common ravens, and black billed magpie.  “Observant people may also see that there are as many as 30 common redpolls, blue jays and grey jays and if they look down they might see grouse. We generally have well over 20 different species.”

“Birders” looking to take their watching to the next level are also encouraged to participate in the bird count by leaving their feeders behind and participating in the “town circle.”  Participants in the circle are directed to a specific location within an approximately 13 kilometre radius of Fort McMurray, including MacDonald Island Park, Birchwood Trails, Tower Road, and for the most adventurous, driving to remote locations outside city limits.

Those interested in participating in the Fort McMurray Christmas bird count can contact Marler at to register their location.