Christmas counts set to begin

Christmas counts set to begin

This year Christmas bird counts can be held anytime between Tuesday, Dec. 14 and Wednesday, Jan. 5. This is the 122nd CBC. The first count was held Dec. 25, 1900, by the Audubon Society. There were 27 observers covering 25 count circles, most of them in the northeast.

In 2020 there were 2,646 CBC circles across the U.S., Canada, several Latin American and Caribbean countries, and the Pacific Islands. Currently, there are around 82,000 participants each year. The 2020 count included 469 in Canada, 1,992 in the U.S. and 185 from outside North America. The CBC is the nation’s longest running community science bird project, and 2020 was the first year to have 100 CBCs with 100 or more participants. The results are used throughout the year by the National Audubon Society.

In 2020 there were 40 new CBC circles including the first from the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. This Isla Santa Cruz CBC circle adds some new endemic species to the CBC total.

While the first Christmas bird count found less than 100 total species, the 2020 counts yielded a total of 2,566 species. There were 44 non-established exotic species found in 2020 including lots of parrots. There were two new species added last year: far eastern curlew at Midway Atoll and scaly-naped pigeon at Sanibel-Captiva, Florida.

The highest number of species found at one U.S. CBC was 229. This was at the traditional hotspot, Matagorda County-Mad Island Marsh, Texas, while Napa, Ecuador tallied 453 species on the one-day count. Now that would be an interesting count to join.

The most worrisome results over the last several years have been the significant drop in total number of birds found on CBCs. The total dropped from 48 million to 42 million last year, and there also was a drop the year before. As the National Audubon Society report said, “We wonder what is going on and what is causing it.”

Currently, they are looking at results from recent years to better understand what species are being affected and in what locations.

There are always some “almost on count day” rarities. Last year it was a rustic bunting that was being seen along the Washington-Oregon border but couldn’t be found on count day. Meanwhile in Anchorage, Alaska, a dusky thrush has stayed around for three winters but never has been located on count day.

Anna’s hummingbirds are clearly on the increase. Recent CBC counts have found Anna’s as far north as Southeast Alaska and east to Missouri, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Barred owls have been expanding in the northwest, probably causing more problems for the endangered spotted owls that don’t do well when competing with barred owls. Sandhill cranes are increasingly found north of their traditional winter range. The warming climate creates less snow and ice during the winter. While sandhill cranes are expanding their winter range northward, they also are expanding their breeding range southeastward from East to Central Canada.

Several other interesting CBC results include a drastic decline in great cormorants in the northeast and Atlantic Canada, continued decline of northern bobwhites, and the apparent stabilizing of Eurasian collared-dove numbers, although they now have showed up as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska.

And finally, a lesser black-backed gull nicknamed “Lester” spent its 18th winter in Rhode Island, although it couldn’t be found on count day because the area was closed for hunting.

Good birding!

Bruce Glick can be emailed at bglick2@gmail.com.