Trends in Canada's Migratory Bird Populations

Billions of birds nest and raise their young in Canada and the majority are migratory. On average, Canadian breeding bird populations declined by 12% between 1970 and 2010, but trends vary among species, depending, in part, on where they winter.Footnote [1]

By 2010, bird species spending the entire year in Canada increased in population on average by 68% since 1970. Bird species migrating farther from home generally declined, and birds migrating the farthest – to South America – showed the most severe declines, with populations declining by 53%. Birds migrating to the United States had 10% declines on average, while birds migrating to Central America declined by 14%.

Trends in Canada's migratory bird populations by primary wintering area, 1970–2010

Line graph

Long description

The line graph shows trends in Canada's migratory bird populations for the period 1970 to 2010 for groups of native bird species that winter primarily in one of four areas: Canada; United States; Central America (includes Mexico and the Caribbean); and South America. An overall population trend line for "all birds" is also provided. Plotted on a rescaled percentage change axis, the graph reflects changes in species' populations since the base year 1970 (1970 = 0). Overall, bird species spending the entire year in Canada increased in population on average by 68% since 1970 in 2010 while bird species migrating farther from home generally declined with populations migrating to South America declining by 53 percent, birds migrating to the United States declining by 10 percent and birds migrating to Central America declining by 14 percent.

Data for this chart
Trends in Canada's migratory bird populations by primary wintering area, 1970–2010
YearAverage population trends of 52 bird species wintering in Canada (percent change from 1970)Average population trends of 111 bird species wintering in the United States (percent change from 1970)Average population trends of 74 bird species wintering in Central America (percent change from 1970)Average population trends of 55 bird species wintering in South America (percent change from 1970)Average population trends "All Birds" (percent change from 1970)

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 2.25 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: There are 451 regularly occurring native bird species in Canada. The annual composite population index for "all species" reports on 318 bird species for which there are sufficient population data, including birds that winter in more than one area. Annual indices by primary wintering area report on 292 bird species with sufficient population data and exclude birds that winter across more than one area. Central America includes Mexico and the Caribbean.
Source: North American Bird Conservation Initiative-Canada (2012) State of Canada's Birds.

Within each wintering area, there are increasing and decreasing species. While trends reflect the overall patterns, individual species or species groups respond to different environmental factors. For example, grassland birds in Canada are generally declining and raptors are generally increasing.Footnote [1]

Status of Canada's migratory bird populations within each primary wintering area, 1970–2010
Primary wintering areaStrong increase (number of species)Increase (number of species)Little change (number of species)Decrease (number of species)Strong decrease (number of species)Total
United States1917321825111
Central America12921131974
South America55773155
Data for this indicator
Bird species wintering in Canada
Strong increase (18)Increase (6)Little change (10)Decrease (7)Strong decrease (11)
Spruce GrouseBarred OwlRuffed GrouseGreat Horned OwlKing Eider
Wild TurkeyDowny WoodpeckerSharp-tailed GrouseLong-eared OwlWillow Ptarmigan
GyrfalconBlue JayNorthern GoshawkChestnut-backed ChickadeeWhite-tailed Ptarmigan
Northern Hawk OwlClark's NutcrackerRed-breasted SapsuckerBoreal ChickadeePurple Sandpiper
Great Gray OwlNorthwestern CrowGray JayBohemian WaxwingSnowy Owl
Boreal OwlPygmy NuthatchSteller's JayPine GrosbeakBlack-backed Woodpecker
Red-bellied WoodpeckerBlack-billed MagpieRed CrossbillBewick's Wren
Hairy WoodpeckerMountain ChickadeeNorthern Mockingbird
American Three-toed WoodpeckerBushtitSnow Bunting
Pileated WoodpeckerBrown CreeperCommon Redpoll
Hutton's VireoHoary Redpoll
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
White-winged Crossbill

Bird species wintering in the United States
Strong increase (19)Increase (17)Little change (32)Decrease (18)Strong decrease (25)
Snow GooseTundra SwanBrantYellow-billed LoonAmerican Wigeon
Ross's GooseGadwallAmerican Black DuckHorned GrebeNorthern Pintail
Cackling GooseGreen-winged TealMallardGreat Blue HeronLesser Scaup
Canada GooseRedheadCanvasbackMarbled GodwitWhite-winged Scoter
Wood DuckGreater ScaupSurf ScoterAmerican WoodcockNorthern Harrier
Ring-necked DuckCommon GoldeneyeBlack ScoterBelted KingfisherAmerican Kestrel
BuffleheadBarrow's GoldeneyePied-billed GrebeNorthern FlickerKilldeer
Hooded MerganserCommon LoonRed-necked GrebeEastern PhoebeMew Gull
Common MerganserRed-tailed HawkCooper's HawkMountain BluebirdShort-eared Owl
Bald EagleDunlinRed-shouldered HawkVaried ThrushRed-headed Woodpecker
Sharp-shinned HawkRock WrenRough-legged HawkBrown ThrasherLoggerhead Shrike
Ferruginous HawkWinter WrenAmerican CootAmerican PipitHorned Lark
Yellow RailSedge WrenPiping PloverField SparrowTownsend's Solitaire
Sandhill CraneHermit ThrushWilson's SnipeLe Conte's SparrowChestnut-collared Longspur
Bonaparte's GullCedar WaxwingYellow-bellied SapsuckerDark-eyed JuncoMcCown's Longspur
Blue-headed VireoSmith's LongspurAmerican CrowRed-winged BlackbirdAmerican Tree Sparrow
Eastern BluebirdSpotted TowheeMarsh WrenBrewer's BlackbirdFox Sparrow
Pine WarblerGolden-crowned KingletBrown-headed CowbirdHarris's Sparrow
Nelson's SparrowRuby-crowned KingletEastern Meadowlark
American RobinWestern Meadowlark
Lapland LongspurRusty Blackbird
Orange-crowned WarblerPurple Finch
Yellow-rumped WarblerCassin's Finch
Eastern TowheePine Siskin
Vesper SparrowEvening Grosbeak
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch

Bird species wintering in Central America
Strong increase (12)Increase (9)Little change (21)Decrease (13)Strong decrease (19)
Cinnamon TealCalifornia GullSoraGreater White-fronted GooseEared Grebe
Western GrebeCassin's VireoAmerican AvocetAmerican BitternBlack-crowned Night-Heron
American White PelicanWarbling VireoLong-billed CurlewGreen HeronForster's Tern
Virginia RailPhiladelphia VireoRed PhalaropeCaspian TernWhip-poor-will
Ruby-throated HummingbirdNorthern ParulaCalliope HummingbirdDusky FlycatcherVaux's Swift
Pacific-slope FlycatcherMagnolia WarblerRed-naped SapsuckerGreat Crested FlycatcherRufous Hummingbird
Say's PhoebeBlack-throated Green WarblerHammond's FlycatcherTree SwallowYellow-bellied Flycatcher
Black-throated Blue WarblerWestern TanagerWestern KingbirdViolet-green SwallowLeast Flycatcher
Palm WarblerIndigo BuntingYellow-throated VireoGray CatbirdNorthern Rough-winged Swallow
Lark SparrowHouse WrenTennessee WarblerWood Thrush
Lazuli BuntingOvenbirdMacGillivray's WarblerSprague's Pipit
Orchard OrioleBlack-and-white WarblerBlack-throated Gray WarblerCape May Warbler
Nashville WarblerClay-colored SparrowWilson's Warbler
Common YellowthroatLark Bunting
Chestnut-sided WarblerGrasshopper Sparrow
Townsend's WarblerBaird's Sparrow
Chipping SparrowRose-breasted Grosbeak
Brewer's SparrowYellow-headed Blackbird
Lincoln's SparrowBaltimore Oriole
Black-headed Grosbeak
Bullock's Oriole

Bird species wintering in South America
Strong increase (5)Increase (5)Little change (7)Decrease (7)Strong decrease (31)
Turkey VultureSolitary SandpiperBroad-winged HawkUpland SandpiperSpotted Sandpiper
OspreyGreater YellowlegsSwainson's HawkAlder FlycatcherLesser Yellowlegs
Peregrine FalconRed-necked PhalaropeSanderlingWillow FlycatcherHudsonian Godwit
White-rumped SandpiperRed-eyed VireoBuff-breasted SandpiperEastern KingbirdRuddy Turnstone
Golden-winged WarblerBlackburnian WarblerWilson's PhalaropeNorthern WaterthrushRed Knot
Swainson's ThrushAmerican RedstartLeast Sandpiper
Yellow WarblerScarlet TanagerBaird's Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper
Franklin's Gull
Black Tern
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo
Common Nighthawk
Black Swift
Chimney Swift
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Western Wood-Pewee
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Purple Martin
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Connecticut Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Canada Warbler

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: Bird species whose populations increased by more than 33% from 1970 to 2010 are classified as increasing. Species that have declined by more than 25% are classified as decreasing.  Species that have experienced smaller increases or decreases are assigned to the little-change category.
Source: North American Bird Conservation Initiative-Canada (2012) State of Canada's Birds.

Travelling hundreds or even thousands of kilometres in search of food, shelter and safe passage, both en route and at their destinations, is risky for birds. The State of Canada's Birds 2012 lists the greatest threats to migrating birds travelling outside of Canada as follows:

  • Habitat loss – Growing development pressures and demand for products in many countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America are destroying natural habitats. Agriculture is replacing both natural forests and grasslands. Logging has significantly reduced the forest habitats of Central America and the Caribbean. Beach tourism and shrimp aquaculture are replacing coastal habitats, including mangroves and salt marshes.
  • Pollution – Oil spills, pesticides, industrial chemicals and heavy metals degrade the quality of air, water and terrestrial habitats, and may sicken or kill birds. Many toxic pesticides now banned in Canada and the U.S. are still in widespread use elsewhere.
  • Incidental Take such as collisions with towers, windows, vehicles and power-lines kill millions of birds each year as they migrate between breeding and wintering areas. In addition, millions of birds are killed by domestic and feral cats.
  • Uncontrolled hunting and trapping remains a concern for birds in some countries. Many shorebirds are hunted in the Caribbean, while songbirds are trapped for the caged bird trade in many areas.
  • Climate change will have particularly strong effects on long-distance migrants because changes anywhere along their migration routes can disrupt their life cycle. Mismatches between migration timing and food availability can lead to reduced nesting success. Changing sea levels will flood coastal stopover habitats. More frequent, stronger storms can lead to major mortality on migration.

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