The 78th Annual Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count was a cold one. Owlers that started at 7AM christened the count at -30.3 C, which was the coldest start since 2004. For the 43 birders that were out during the day, the temperatures did not warm up much more, reaching a high of -23.3 C, making this year’s count the coldest since 1993. 
It was not just that the air temperature was cold, winds in the 30km/h range made it feel more like the mid -40s. That did not stop the birders however; total effort was almost exactly the same as last year despite the cold. Kudos to them! The extreme cold weather arrived on December 20th, just prior to count week, and likely pushed some species out of the area just prior to count week, such as waterfowl. It also likely contributed to birds being less active than usual in order to try and conserve energy and stay warm. 
What did the weather mean for count day? Birders managed to scrounge up 36 species of birds. The 10-year running average for count day is ~49 species, making this years count quite low, in fact the lowest since 1995. The total number of birds seen was 4877, which is about half of the 10-year average, and the lowest since 1986. Count week (+/- 3 days) provided 6 additional species but still less than average.
Some birds that were missed included; Glaucous Gull, it was seen during count week but missed on count day for the first time since 1995, Common Goldeneye was also missed for the first time since 2004. Other unusual absentees for the count included: Boreal Chickadee (49 counts), Purple Finch (34 counts), Mallard and Snow Bunting (28 counts). 
Only 681 European Starlings were counted, an average count number is ~2200, and only 3 Pileated Woodpeckers were recorded, the lowest number in 17 years. Some birds did not seem to mind the cold though, Black-capped Chickadees, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and Bohemian Waxwings were pretty much at average count numbers or slightly higher. Four Brown Creepers was unusually high and the amount tied the record with four other count years. Six White-throated Sparrows was also abnormally high, with the average only 1 in years that the species is recorded. 
There were only three unusual bird species for the CBC in 2017. A count week Boreal Owl was only the third record for the CBC in its 78 years. A Brown Thrasher that has been reoccurring throughout fall and winter was also counted on count day, which is only the eighth time the species has been counted. A White-crowned Sparrow that had been present since December 5th was spotted by a feeder watcher on count day. This is only the 
seventh record for the species, the last one coming in 2014.
The 43 birders were subdivided into 14 areas within the 15-mile diameter count circle. Amongst the field parties, the highest species count was Area 5 (Westfort area) with 20 species, followed by Area 10 (Broadway Avenue area) with 19 species and Area 13 (John Street/Government Road Area) with 15 species. Highest individual count was Area 5 with 1050 total birds. Increased number of feeder watchers helped pitch in with 16 species of birds and the only group that counted Grey Jay, House Finch and White-crowned Sparrow.
Four mammal species were observed, 38 red squirrels topping the list. Only 12 white-tailed deer were seen. Other mammal sightings included eastern gray squirrel, red fox, and snowshoe hair.
The total count can be viewed in table format by clicking here.
I wish to thank the participants that attended the 78th Thunder Bay CBC. Also, thank you to Sue and Mike Bryan for hosting the potluck supper and compilation after the count, and to all the volunteers that helped make the dinner and clean-up run so smoothly.

For a summary of other 2017 Christmas Bird Counts around Northwestern Ontario click here.