Local bird enthusiasts were thrilled to spot some birds of prey and other feathered friends during the 2018 Christmas Bird Count. Volunteers canvassed two areas of Grande Prairie and Beaverlodge on December 15th and 16th, spotting around 27 birds in each 24 kilometre radius.

Margot Hervieux with the Peace Parkland Naturalists says that’s an average amount, but with more birds of prey than usual. Those include a snowy owl, great horned owl, goshawk, golden eagles and bald eagles in the Beaverlodge area, and a great horned owl and northern skrike in the Grande Prairie area.

Hervieux credits the increase in sightings to low levels of snow on the ground at the time.

“The birds of prey, particularly if they’re looking for mice and things like that that normally would be under a heavy layer of snow, it’s easier for them to hunt when there’s less snow in the area. Some of the birds that might normally move away from the area will have stuck around.”

This is the 30th year a Christmas bird count has been held in the region, but the tradition dates back to 1899 when it was about hunting rather than a census. Hervieux says the local data will be submitted to Bird Studies Canada to become part of a massive database that covers North America.

“They’re able to look at things like trends, seeing if populations are declining. Because the weather is different every year and the number of counters is different every year those things have to be factored in… but certainly over time you can start to see those sorts of trends.”

Every year, it’s expected people will see magpies, ravens, chickadees, downy and hairy woodpeckers, and blue jays. Hervieux says volunteers also look forward to seeing a species that normally leaves for the winter and this year that was a golden-crowned kinglet in Grande Prairie.

“I’m not sure we’ve ever recorded that here. It’s really rare.”

A core group of bird watchers take part in the annual count, and this year 12 made it out. They spread out in teams and compare notes to make sure they don’t count a bird more than once.