By: Tina Novotny

The Christmas Bird Count might sound like a family-friendly holiday tradition; in fact, it’s highly important scientific data collection to monitor the health of bird populations all over the Western Hemisphere.

Paul and Debra Harpley steward the Sutton Christmas Bird Count, which marked its 33rd year in 2019.

The Sutton Count is supported by the Zephyr Society of Lake Simcoe Research Foundation and the South Lake Simcoe Naturalists, part of a National Audubon Society program begun in 1900, now overseen by Bird Studies Canada in this country.

On December 28, 17 field birders and 21 feeder/property bird watchers took part in the count in Georgina, East Gwillimbury and northwest Uxbridge.

Black-capped chickadee, Photo by Nicky Krayn, 2019-12-28

Paul Harpley says human-induced climate change is impacting all bird species, with between 30 to 40 percent population loss since the 1970s.

“An obvious example is seeing robins in the winter, which used to be relatively uncommon,” he says.

“Twenty years ago, you might see one or two, and it would be big news.” When milder temperatures dip into polar vortex cold, Harpley says those over-wintering robins have slim chances of surviving.

Mr. Harpley says the 2019 Christmas bird count had positive results with 56 species recorded, but the day’s environment reflected warming climate trends.

“The sun was out, and the snow was disappearing, and it’s what all the models are predicting.” That’s why he says it’s more important than ever to collect the field research to inform scientists and, hopefully, politicians guiding climate policy. “The data has become extremely important in terms of things like biodiversity loss.”

Mr. Harpley says he’s happy to hear from experienced birders who want to volunteer for future Christmas bird counts. “We need high competence for rigour in understanding our local area.”

If you are an experienced birder and would like to volunteer, please email Mr. Harpley at

White-breasted nuthatch, Photo by Nicky Krayn, 2019-12-28
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