There’s a big flock of waxwings in town. JEFF GAYE

Ravens are up, owls are way up. Magpies are down. And where are all the little songbirds?

The annual Christmas bird count in St. Paul won’t be complete until January 3, but Paul Boisvert says some trends are emerging. 

The count is part of the Audubon Society’s annual count, which helps to monitor and track populations of various bird species in North America. Most communities hold their counts on Christmas Day, but Boisvert says St. Paul runs theirs until early January to encourage participation.

From the counters that is, not from the birds.

But some birds are standing up to be counted more than others so far this year. “The outstanding thing has been the number of owls sighted in the area,” Boisvert said. 

He says the lack of snow cover means easier hunting. It also explains why the small seed-eaters aren’t coming into the town.

“The reason why there are a lot of owls, and the reason why there are not more of the smaller type of birds like pine siskins and snow buntings and that type of thing, is there’s just too much feed yet, nothing is snow covered,” he said. “And there’s so much feed left and scattered about in the fields. That’s just a hypothesis I have.”

Great grey owls have been among the owls that have been sighted.

Raven populations continue to climb year after year. “Man, they’re all over the place,” Boisvert says. But their corvid cousins the magpies seem less so far populous this winter.

And there has been a huge flock of waxwings around town, probably about 500 birds. They will descend on mountain ash trees in droves and feast on the orange-coloured berries.

“But siskins and the redpolls and the smaller seed eaters, Lord knows where they’re at. They’re sure not here,” Boisvert said.

He is surprised to find some waterfowl hanging around even after the lakes and dugouts have frozen over. Observers have seen geese and half a dozen mallards lingering late into the season.

“And some of the people out in the countryside are seeing good numbers of grouse and things like that, that we haven’t had for a
few years,” he said. “Things are just turned around, it seems.”

A local population of ring-necked doves seems to be establishing itself permanently. The doves were first spotted four years ago. There is a group that lives in town, and more out in the country.

“Over the summer when we were travelling around in the countryside we’ve seen them in a couple of places. Other doves than the ones that are here in town,” Boisvert said.

“But the ones in town, you still see him every day. And it’s really an absolutely amazing story of adaptation, let me tell you, for a bird from the Caribbean to come up here and just stay the year.”

The findings from the St. Paul count will be compiled and added to results from across the province. These will in turn go toward a larger picture of bird trends in North America.