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Christmas Bird Count

by Brett Quiring

The annual Christmas Bird count is a mainstay in Nature Regina’s yearly work. Members started it informally in 1942 and developed a more formal process in 1954. Nature Regina has counted an impressive number of 127 different species since 1954, including a Yellow-rumped Warbler in 1997 and 2023 and a Chipping Sparrow in 2016. From 1995 to 2010 annual Christmas bird counts were organized by Dale Hjertaas. Brett Quiring then took the lead in 2011; with the 2023 Christmas Bird Count being his 13th.


The long-standing count is useful not just for identifying rarities. It tracks increases and decreases in specific bird populations over time and also tracks some of the environmental changes in the city.   


Early counts included large numbers of waterfowl because the old Regina power plant (now the Science Centre) released warm water into Wascana Lake, providing a refuge for waterfowl in the cold.  This resulted in early counts including truly unusual winter birds like grebes and swans. The plant closed in 1978, resulting in a sharp and immediate drop of waterfowl in the count.   


Over the last decade, that number has risen again because Wascana Lake was deepened, and aeration was installed. Along with the discharge from the water treatment plant west of Regina, these changes brought back some unusual waterfowl, including a male Wood Duck that wintered in Wascana Lake between 2018-2021 and a Glaucous Gull seen by the water treatment plant in 2021. 

During the same decade, Regina’s urban forest grew and matured, resulting in increasing numbers of boreal birds such as Black-capped Chickadees, both Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, and a variety of Woodpeckers.


The count has also tracked the expansion of several species into the Regina area, such as House Finches, Ravens, and native sparrows, especially Dark-eyed Juncos, and hawks.

Starting in 1991, Nature Regina started increasing the number of counts, adding one based in Craven and including Lumsden.  The Craven count has been interesting as it includes parts of the Qu’Appelle valley that have a slightly different arrangement of species than Regina.  The count is better for finches and eagles than the Regina count and is known for the occasional sighting of Northern Cardinals.   

Nature Regina added a Balgonie count in 2011 and it includes the nearby communities of Pilot Butte and White City.  The count, typically done of the last Saturday of the count period, has already racked up an impressive 57 species since its inception. Most notable was an Eastern Bluebird sighting in 2020 - only the second sighting during a Saskatchewan Christmas Bird Count. 


Nature Regina has recently expanded the role of the Christmas Bird Count, hosting a special count for kids. It provides a great opportunity to teach kids about birds and nature in a fun atmosphere.  This has been a great step towards expanding knowledge of our natural environment and training the next generation of counters. 

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Perhaps the counts’ greatest contribution is that they involve so many people.  Participation in the Regina count reached a high in the mid-70s, and although the number of participants has fluctuated through the years, the numbers are steadily increasing, with as many as many as 60-90 people   participating in at least one of the three counts.  Nature Regina members have joined counts in other communities too, including Moose Jaw, Buffalo Pound, and Fort Qu’Appelle. 

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