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
Year Average 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)
1970 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
1971 9.9 -0.6 2.4 -0.6 1.3
1972 6.3 -2.4 1.2 -4.3 -1.1
1973 5.3 -4.2 -1.0 -6.0 -2.0
1973 5.3 -4.2 -1.0 -6.0 -2.0
1974 -1.2 -3.8 -3.3 -5.0 -1.4
1975 3.5 0.4 -2.8 -12.5 -0.6
1976 1.2 -0.7 -2.0 -12.7 -1.1
1977 10.4 -4.7 -3.5 -13.6 -1.8
1978 0.3 -8.0 -4.5 -10.8 -4.8
1979 -0.7 -6.3 -3.6 -15.3 -4.2
1980 7.2 -5.9 -4.5 -15.7 -3.4
1981 8.7 -7.7 -5.8 -20.1 -4.9
1982 2.0 -12.1 -5.5 -21.2 -7.7
1983 11.6 -8.1 -7.1 -23.6 -5.3
1984 9.8 -11.8 -6.9 -23.4 -7.3
1985 7.6 -10.7 -7.4 -27.4 -8.2
1986 7.4 -11.1 -8.7 -29.0 -8.8
1987 10.6 -9.2 -8.9 -30.2 -7.8
1988 12.3 -10.1 -10.8 -31.5 -8.7
1989 15.5 -9.8 -11.5 -32.8 -8.8
1990 17.9 -10.1 -10.2 -32.7 -8.4
1991 21.9 -10.6 -10.3 -32.4 -8.0
1992 20.4 -9.2 -10.5 -33.4 -7.5
1993 22.8 -10.3 -10.9 -35.4 -8.5
1994 22.2 -8.9 -9.7 -37.0 -8.0
1995 27.2 -7.2 -9.5 -36.7 -6.5
1996 27.5 -9.8 -11.1 -38.6 -8.1
1997 24.0 -5.7 -10.7 -41.4 -7.2
1998 25.1 -5.6 -11.4 -38.7 -6.8
1999 31.1 -1.0 -12.3 -42.8 -5.7
2000 39.6 -6.5 -13.8 -41.6 -7.1
2001 37.1 -9.9 -15.6 -42.0 -9.5
2002 28.5 -9.6 -16.3 -41.1 -10.1
2003 35.5 -8.8 -15.9 -40.6 -8.0
2004 51.0 -9.7 -16.0 -42.7 -8.1
2005 39.7 -7.6 -13.3 -46.8 -8.8
2006 47.5 -7.5 -14.8 -53.5 -11.7
2007 56.7 -3.6 -12.6 -47.8 -7.1
2008 58.1 -6.2 -13.1 -51.1 -9.4
2009 64.1 -7.8 -14.6 -54.3 -11.7
2010 68.0 -9.9 -14.1 -53.0 -11.5

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 area Strong increase (number of species) Increase (number of species) Little change (number of species) Decrease (number of species) Strong decrease (number of species) Total
Canada 18 6 10 7 11 52
United States 19 17 32 18 25 111
Central America 12 9 21 13 19 74
South America 5 5 7 7 31 55
Data for this indicator
Bird species wintering in Canada
Strong increase (18) Increase (6) Little change (10) Decrease (7) Strong decrease (11)
Spruce Grouse Barred Owl Ruffed Grouse Great Horned Owl King Eider
Wild Turkey Downy Woodpecker Sharp-tailed Grouse Long-eared Owl Willow Ptarmigan
Gyrfalcon Blue Jay Northern Goshawk Chestnut-backed Chickadee White-tailed Ptarmigan
Northern Hawk Owl Clark's Nutcracker Red-breasted Sapsucker Boreal Chickadee Purple Sandpiper
Great Gray Owl Northwestern Crow Gray Jay Bohemian Waxwing Snowy Owl
Boreal Owl Pygmy Nuthatch Steller's Jay Pine Grosbeak Black-backed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker - Black-billed Magpie Red Crossbill Bewick's Wren
Hairy Woodpecker - Mountain Chickadee - Northern Mockingbird
American Three-toed Woodpecker - Bushtit - Snow Bunting
Pileated Woodpecker - Brown Creeper - Common Redpoll
Hutton's Vireo - - - Hoary 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 Goose Tundra Swan Brant Yellow-billed Loon American Wigeon
Ross's Goose Gadwall American Black Duck Horned Grebe Northern Pintail
Cackling Goose Green-winged Teal Mallard Great Blue Heron Lesser Scaup
Canada Goose Redhead Canvasback Marbled Godwit White-winged Scoter
Wood Duck Greater Scaup Surf Scoter American Woodcock Northern Harrier
Ring-necked Duck Common Goldeneye Black Scoter Belted Kingfisher American Kestrel
Bufflehead Barrow's Goldeneye Pied-billed Grebe Northern Flicker Killdeer
Hooded Merganser Common Loon Red-necked Grebe Eastern Phoebe Mew Gull
Common Merganser Red-tailed Hawk Cooper's Hawk Mountain Bluebird Short-eared Owl
Bald Eagle Dunlin Red-shouldered Hawk Varied Thrush Red-headed Woodpecker
Sharp-shinned Hawk Rock Wren Rough-legged Hawk Brown Thrasher Loggerhead Shrike
Ferruginous Hawk Winter Wren American Coot American Pipit Horned Lark
Yellow Rail Sedge Wren Piping Plover Field Sparrow Townsend's Solitaire
Sandhill Crane Hermit Thrush Wilson's Snipe Le Conte's Sparrow Chestnut-collared Longspur
Bonaparte's Gull Cedar Waxwing Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Dark-eyed Junco McCown's Longspur
Blue-headed Vireo Smith's Longspur American Crow Red-winged Blackbird American Tree Sparrow
Eastern Bluebird Spotted Towhee Marsh Wren Brewer's Blackbird Fox Sparrow
Pine Warbler - Golden-crowned Kinglet Brown-headed Cowbird Harris's Sparrow
Nelson's Sparrow - Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Eastern Meadowlark
- - American Robin - Western Meadowlark
- - Lapland Longspur - Rusty Blackbird
- - Orange-crowned Warbler - Purple Finch
- - Yellow-rumped Warbler - Cassin's Finch
- - Eastern Towhee - Pine Siskin
- - Vesper Sparrow - Evening 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 Teal California Gull Sora Greater White-fronted Goose Eared Grebe
Western Grebe Cassin's Vireo American Avocet American Bittern Black-crowned Night-Heron
American White Pelican Warbling Vireo Long-billed Curlew Green Heron Forster's Tern
Virginia Rail Philadelphia Vireo Red Phalarope Caspian Tern Whip-poor-will
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Northern Parula Calliope Hummingbird Dusky Flycatcher Vaux's Swift
Pacific-slope Flycatcher Magnolia Warbler Red-naped Sapsucker Great Crested Flycatcher Rufous Hummingbird
Say's Phoebe Black-throated Green Warbler Hammond's Flycatcher Tree Swallow Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Black-throated Blue Warbler Western Tanager Western Kingbird Violet-green Swallow Least Flycatcher
Palm Warbler Indigo Bunting Yellow-throated Vireo Gray Catbird Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Lark Sparrow - House Wren Tennessee Warbler Wood Thrush
Lazuli Bunting - Ovenbird MacGillivray's Warbler Sprague's Pipit
Orchard Oriole - Black-and-white Warbler Black-throated Gray Warbler Cape May Warbler
- - Nashville Warbler Clay-colored Sparrow Wilson's Warbler
- - Common Yellowthroat - Lark Bunting
- - Chestnut-sided Warbler - Grasshopper Sparrow
- - Townsend's Warbler - Baird's Sparrow
- - Chipping Sparrow - Rose-breasted Grosbeak
- - Brewer's Sparrow - Yellow-headed Blackbird
- - Lincoln's Sparrow - Baltimore 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 Vulture Solitary Sandpiper Broad-winged Hawk Upland Sandpiper Spotted Sandpiper
Osprey Greater Yellowlegs Swainson's Hawk Alder Flycatcher Lesser Yellowlegs
Peregrine Falcon Red-necked Phalarope Sanderling Willow Flycatcher Hudsonian Godwit
White-rumped Sandpiper Red-eyed Vireo Buff-breasted Sandpiper Eastern Kingbird Ruddy Turnstone
Golden-winged Warbler Blackburnian Warbler Wilson's Phalarope Northern Waterthrush Red Knot
- - Swainson's Thrush American Redstart Least Sandpiper
- - Yellow Warbler Scarlet Tanager Baird'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
- - - - Veery
- - - - Gray-cheeked Thrush
- - - - Connecticut Warbler
- - - - Mourning Warbler
- - - - Bay-breasted Warbler
- - - - Blackpoll Warbler
- - - - Canada Warbler
- - - - Bobolink

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 8.27 KB)

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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