by Lisa Bate

Glacier National Park (GNP) held its annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on Sunday, December 19, 2021. Twenty-two participants contributed to this event by covering 10 different routes in Glacier. Participants spent the day counting all bird species and individuals detected. The weather was overcast with light winds, and temperatures ranged between 29 and 32. Snow depths varied from 3 to 18 inches, so most observers skied or snowshoed with limited walking. Nearly all water was open (not frozen). 

Counts in 2021 were high with 2,319 birds counted comprised of 32 different species (Table 1). This was the ‘year of the goose’ for the Glacier count! Leading up to CBC week, GNP had unusually warm weather with little snow. Then days before the CBC, it started to dump snow and get cold causing what appeared to be a mass exodus of geese from the park. In all, observers counted 3,945 Canada Geese, but after looking at recorded times and flight direction, we halved this number knowing that many were duplicates. We still ended up with a record number of Canada Geese (n = 1,975), more than quadrupling our previous record of 435 in 1999. 

Adding to our ‘year of the goose’ highlights, we added a new species to GNP count: a lone snow goose! One observant birder, while counting yet another flock of Canada Geese passing by, noticed an ‘odd’ bird in the formation, and it was a snow goose! Luckily, he was able to get a picture (Figure 1). Later, on his walk, he also got a fantastic picture of a male Black-backed Woodpecker (Figure 2). 

The next most common birds were Common Goldeneyes, then Bohemian Waxwings, and then Black-capped Chickadees (Table 1). During count week (3 days before and 3 days after count day), we added one species with one lone Horned Grebe observed on Lake McDonald. 

Glacier’s CBC started in 1962, and contributed to the 122nd year of the National Audubon Society’s CBC. Thanks to all participants for contributing their expertise, time, and energy for this annual event. Your efforts are invaluable in tracking long-term changes in species abundance, diversity, and range changes, in Glacier and throughout North America. Here’s to hoping to see you all again this December for hot drinks and snacks before we head out to count winter birds! It has been too long. 

Table 1. Species and numbers of birds observed during Glacier’s CBC in 2021. 

 Species Count Species Count Species Count 
Canada Goose 1,975 White-winged Crossbill Common Merganser 
Common Goldeneye 84 Black-backed Woodpecker Common Redpoll 
Bohemian Waxwing 60 Chestnut-backed Chickadee Downy Woodpecker 
Black-capped Chickadee 37 Dark-eyed Junco Evening Grosbeak 
Common Raven 26 Northern Flicker Finch spp 
Red-breasted Nuthatch 21 Song Sparrow Pacific Wren 
Mountain Chickadee 14 Woodpecker spp Pileated Woodpecker 
Golden-crowned Kinglet 13 Barrow’s Goldeneye Pine Siskin 
American Dipper 10 Bufflehead Ruffed Grouse 
Bald Eagle Grouse spp Snow Goose 
Unknown Swan Hairy Woodpecker Horned Grebe cw 
Brown Creeper Unknown Chickadee Total 1,975 
Trumpeter Swan Belted Kingfisher 
Steller’s Jay Canada Jay 
Figure 1. Lone Snow Goose observed flying in V-formation of Canada Geese (J. Bramante photo). 
Figure 2. Male Black-backed Woodpecker observed on the Flathead Ranger Station Route (J. Bramante photo).