‘Birding on the Rez’: Kahnawake joins national bird count


The national Christmas bird count has been an annual tradition for more than 80 years, but only recently practiced on Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, just west of Montreal.

“So far I’ve observed 42 different species of birds, so it’s pretty cool to think you have that much just in your own backyard,” says Onawa Jacobs with the Kahnawake Environmental Protection Office.

Jacobs is the brains behind “Birding on the Rez”, an immersive livestream experience of biodiversity.

“I’ve been feeding the birds in my backyard for about 10 years, and one day I started using a GoPro and started livestreaming – it was during the pandemic,” she says.

“We were isolated and couldn’t really do anything, so it was a way to connect people back to nature, and to connect them to each other as well.”

Onawa Jacobs is the brains behind “Birding on the Rez”, an immersive livestream experience of biodiversity. Photo: APTN

The bird count is open to anyone. It keep drawing regulars, like David Smith, back year after year.

“It’s a wonderful community,” says Smith, “when you’re out here not seeing a whole lot of birds, and cold, you know you have something in common, right? You all suffer together.”

The volunteer birders get out in the field and, well, count the birds.

The information is used by national organizations to keep an eye on climate change and species evolution.

“There’s an indication that cardinals, well, they’re moving north essentially,” says Smith.

“Same thing for other species that we might’ve seen once upon a time. Which would be a reflection either of declines in the species, or in the fact that this whole environment is changing.”

The bird count is open to anyone. It keep drawing regulars, like David Smith, back year after year. Photo: APTN

Sometimes it only takes a single winged creature to set volunteers’ hearts aflutter.

“Whoa! Whoa! You see the raising and lowering of the tail? That’s a hermit thrush, guaranteed,” says Smith during a recent walk along the riverbank.

“What’s special is that I’ve never seen one here in 30 years of birding. Never seen one here at this time of year.”

The overall tally in 2021 didn’t beat Kahnawake’s all-time record of 76 species.

But Jacobs says it’s a big-picture project.

“Well, just the beauty and simplicity of nature, you know? Taking appreciation for something so small can really bring us a lot of joy.”

Reporter / Montreal

Lindsay was born and raised on the unceded territory of Tiohtià:ke (Montréal), and joined APTN News as a Quebec correspondent in 2019. While in university, she collaborated on a multiplatform project about the revitalization of the Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) language to commemorate the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Before APTN Lindsay worked at the Eastern Door, CTV Montreal and the Montreal Gazette.