Last year was the year of the finch for local birdwatchers conducting the annual Christmas Bird Count.
"This is like a finch winter," said George Clulow, organizer of the Burnaby count.
The Christmas bird count is a yearly census of winter birds conducted across Canada, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, with tens of thousands of bird enthusiasts participating.
Clulow, a local birder who has been organizing the Burnaby count for decades, also noted an important new addition to the count: the white-winged crossbill, a northern finch that lives across Canada's boreal forest.
"They are total nomads. They travel spectacular distances and show up here, where they haven't been seen for years," he said.
The red crossbill and common redpoll, also types of finches, were spotted in record numbers in Burnaby, and the pine siskin, another member of the finch family, was seen in very high numbers. The highest previous number of pine siskins spotted was in 2003, when 274 were counted, but this year, volunteers spied 724.
"It's all part of this finch phenomena where the birds are coming south from the boreal forest," Clulow explained. "It's due to them moving south due to food shortages where they normally spend the winter."
Finches feed on the seeds of coniferous trees, Clulow explained, and this year's crop was likely poor, driving the birds south to find food. In Burnaby, nine volunteers split into two teams to cover the Deer Lake and Burnaby Lake area and the Still Creek corridor.
Every evening at dusk, thousands of Lower Mainland crows return to the Still Creek business area to roost along a stretch of trees lining the creek, and according to Clulow, the crow population counted there seems to be growing smaller. In 2009, volunteers counted 30,000 crows. In 2010 the number dropped to 23,000 and then 18,000 in 2011. This year, Clulow only counted 8,000, and he's not sure why the number seem to be declining.
"It could be all of the constant scaring to get them away from the buildings, I don't know, but it seems like we are in a four-year trend of decline," he said. "It will be interesting to see if it stays or stabilizes."
The birds can be a problem for surrounding businesses, some of which have resorted to various tactics to keep the corvids away.