Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Severe cold during Lanark Highlands Bird Count sets interesting records

On December 30th, 2017 the 15th year of the annual Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count, the total number of birds counted was 3419, lower than the highest count of 4276 in 2010. The number of different species found was 31, the lowest in all 15 years of the Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count.

All across the province, lower numbers of birds were recorded, probably due to frigid temperatures, although the number of different species seen has come in quite high, almost normal. The average numbers of birds recorded on the Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird count day is 3520.  Over the fifteen years of conducting the count, a total of seventy-eight different species have been recorded. The Lanark Highlands count is one of three local counts sponsored by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (other MVFN counts are the Rideau Ferry Christmas Bird Count an the Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count which includes Almonte).

The somewhat low number of species counted this year can generally be attributed to the absence of waterfowl in the area owing to the severe cold weather and freeze-up of most water areas.   Another factor compared to previous years may be the lower number of observers available on count day. At least one couple had to decline on short notice owing to illness. Also, there may have been less walking overall due to cold temperatures.

We had two new species this year to set two new records:  two Lapland longspurs were seen and photographed as well as a winter wren. While blue jays (565) were most plentiful they did not break the record of 641 in 2013.   Dark-eyed Juncos (456) did however set a record compared with the 276 seen in 2013.

Aside from the bald eagles, there were only three other raptors counted this year, an almost low number for this count. The usual high for raptors is around thirty.

So far the count-week birds are a lonely Canada goose (1) seen on Dec 29th 2017, plus a Northern shrike (1) and a red-tailed hawk (1).

The official listing for this year’s count is as follows;

ruffed grouse (23); wild turkeys (262); bald eagles (10); golden eagle (1); red-tailed hawk (2); rock pigeon (138); mourning doves (190); barred owl (1); downy woodpecker (55); hairy woodpecker (73); pileated woodpecker (6); blue jay (565); crow (122); ravens (53); black-backed chickadees (518); red-breasted nuthatches (21); white-breasted nuthatches (56); brown creepers (2); winter wren (1); robins (5); starlings (91); cedar waxwing (1); tree sparrows (140); juncos (456); Lapland longspurs (2); snow buntings (185); cardinals (15); purple finch (9); common redpoll (12); pine siskins (35); goldfinch (369).

click here for pdf of detailed results for 2017 Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count

Sponsored by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists, the annual Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count (LHCBC) takes place every December 30th, no matter the weather.  The field counters take to the roads and fields to register every bird seen or heard within a fifteen-kilometer radius centered on Watson’s Corners. The circle is divided into four equal sections each with a Section leader.  Special thanks to Ian Paige, Jeff Mills, Ramsey Hart, Lise Balthazar and Pip Winters who served as Section Leaders, and to Marj Montgomery who organizes the Feeder Count.  All the volunteer leaders, counters and coordinators are to be commended.

Special thanks to Howard Robinson for setting up his laptop and screen at the Lanark Civitan Club and entering the data so that everyone could see the results as they came in, and to Cliff Bennett for doing the final compilation of the results and his contribution throughout the count, not to mention his encouragement to area birders.

The Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count is one of over two thousand counts held across North and South America and is the largest citizen-scientist activity anywhere in the world. All records are stored with Bird Studies Canada and the Audubon Society and used for research and conservation programs. For further information please contact compiler Cliff Bennett at or count coordinator Marilyn Barnett at   If you know birds by sight or sound and would like to participate in next year’s count, please contact Marilyn to be added to her list for the December 30th, 2018 LHCBC.

by Cliff Bennett and Marilyn Barnett


Lapland longspur

Lapland longspur photographs from count day by M. Gauthier

Winter wren hiding in blue spruce on count day. photo H. Robinson

Clear skies and severe cold on the by-ways during the Lanark Highlands count