Counting crows
Long search for Cornell's top five birds

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 11/00) - Yellowknifers and all Northerners are being encouraged to count the birds in their backyards next week. But they might have some trouble finding the birds organizers of the count say are most common.

Great Backyard Bird Count 2000 is organized by Cornell University and the National Audubon Society. Canadian and U.S. residents are being asked to count birds in their area to help scientists document the abundance and distribution of North America's winter bird populations at the start of their spring migrations.

Trouble is, spring doesn't start up here until months after the Feb. 18-21 count.

And count organizers have some strange ideas about what birds are most common up here.

In a news release announcing the count, organizers suggest counters look out for such common species as the house sparrow, bohemian waxwing, hairy woodpecker, blue jay and white-breasted nuthatch.

Ecology North bird expert Bob Bromley said it won't take long to count the number of blue jays and the white-breasted nuthatch, because they've never ever been seen in town.

"They may be talking about Canada in general," said Bromley.

RWED biologist Suzanne Carriere said, "Those species sound suspiciously like Fort Smith species."

The counters probably based their idea of what was common here on what was counted in the Fort Smith area in past years, said Carriere.

Northern participation in the count has been quite dismal over the last two years, according to statistics provided by organizers. The nine people who participated in 1998 were a crowd compared to last year, when only two NWT residents recorded their counts on the Backyard Bird Count interactive Web site (

Bromley said the most common species in Yellowknife are two species of redpoles, the boreal chickadee, common raven, willow ptarmigan and grey jay. Some house sparrows are found here, but most of them stick pretty close to town in winter, said Bromley.

A few new visitors have also made the Yellowknife winter scene. In recent years the common grackle and yellow-headed blackbird have been spotted.

Bromley said the recent arrivals are biological indicators of the change in climate the North is experiencing.