Birders Jenny Trapnell and Jim Hawkings participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count downtown on Dec. 26. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)

Birders Jenny Trapnell and Jim Hawkings participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count downtown on Dec. 26. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)

Bird numbers steady and human numbers up during COVID-19 Christmas Bird Count

Organizers speculated that people had less to do this year on Boxing Day, leading to more interest

It might have looked a little different this year, but interest in the annual Christmas Bird Count — a holiday tradition for many people across North America — was high this year in Whitehorse as many people stayed closer to home.

“I think we probably had some people who normally wouldn’t have been in town, maybe they would have been out of town visiting relatives in a normal year. It’s encouraging to see so many people interested,” said Jim Hawkings, who coordinated walks in Whitehorse and Marsh Lake.

This year around Whitehorse around 50 people participated in the annual citizen science event; compared to 31 who joined in 2019. Small groups across the city spread out on a windy and chilly Boxing Day to see how many species they could spot.

Downtown, following the course of the river, Hawkings and Yukon Bird Club president Jenny Trapnell were equipped with binoculars and a scope to walk their beat. They encountered a number of dippers — small swimming birds who cheerfully dive into icy waters all season — and checked on a small group of robins who had made the curious choice to winter in Whitehorse.

On Dec. 26 they spotted one lone American robin, moving slowly by the shore.

Hawkings said so far, the 2020 sightings are lining up to be fairly normal year. In total, around 28 species were counted with the most common being ravens. A variety of chickadee species, waxwings, pine grosbeaks and a number of bald eagles rounded out the count, while a few ptarmigans were counted at higher elevations.

This year’s most unusual sightings were the Stellar’s jays, which are usually not seen this far north. Though not as unusual, the robins and juncos spotted this year are also fairly rare this time of year.

Normally birders spread out in small groups to do the count, congregating together afterward to discuss the walk and any interesting findings. This year, the participating group met over Zoom to compare findings.

Since 1900 the Christmas Bird Count has been a North American-wide tradition, where birders go walking (or in the Yukon, skiing and biking too) on a designated day and specific area and keep tally of their sightings.

“It’s actually a really important piece of citizen science,” Hawkings said. “It’s used to monitor the wintering populations of birds around North America. It’s also sort of a social thing, a rite of winter. It’s a good way to brighten up the rather dark and cold season to get out there and stomp around and see what you can see.”

This year count coordinators participated in 13 communities, including Tombstone Territorial Park, Mayo and Kluane Lake.

Each of the community counts must take place between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Following the count, participating groups submitted their general area, the time and length of their outing and how many of each species was counted.

Birders content to sit and monitor their feeders are also counted.

The data is submitted by local groups to the National Audubon Society and Birds Canada.

The collected data is a useful record of which species and how many birds are active on that day, in a particular area, year over year. In Yukon the count is organized by volunteers and sponsored by the Yukon Bird Club.

Contact Haley Ritchie at