Christmas bird count participants notice decline in number of birds

Posted: Jan. 5, 2013 3:33 pm Updated: Jan. 19, 2013 8:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Local participants in the National Audubon Society's annual Christmas bird count have been noticing a worrisome trend in recent years.

The number of birds counted in the wintry exercise the past few years "has definitely been decreasing," observed Ken Heinze of Quincy, who organizes and compiles the local count.

"This is probably due to loss of habitat and, perhaps, global warming," Heinze said.

The downward trend was noted again last month during the local phase of the 113th annual Christmas bird count, conducted over a 24-hour period Dec. 15 in a 15-mile circle centered at 12th and Maine.

Quincy-area birders tallied 79 species of birds -- the same number as last year -- but the total number of birds counted dropped to 6,297, down from the 7,618 counted in December 2011.

Four years ago, in December 2008, local counters tallied 9,770 birds and 67 species. The numbers sank to 8,442 birds and 57 species in 2009 before an uncommonly large number of birds -- 13,938 and 68 species -- were logged in 2010.

Heize feels the 2010 results were probably an aberration.

"The reason for the high count in 2010 was an unusually high count of ringed-neck gulls, European starlings, Canada geese and American robins," he said. "There were more than 3,000 gulls that year -- most of which were floating on the ice on the river."

This year's results show only 54 ring-billed gulls and one herring gull were spotted.

Comparatively warm weather likely impacted the results, Heinze said.

"We only had 25 eagles this year, which is low because of the warm weather," he said. "When the river doesn't freeze, the eagles can get plenty of food up north."

Fourteen participants in the field spent a total of 43 hours counting birds during the Dec. 15 count. In addition, 23 feeder counters spent 33 hours counting birds at local feeders.

The most commonly sighted bird was the European starling, seen 1,495 times. This was followed by the house sparrow (604) and the Canada goose (586).

Heinze noted that several uncommon birds were logged this year, including a single barn owl, two yellow-bellied sapsuckers, a golden-crowned kinglet and a Lincoln sparrow.

In addition, he said, an Eastern towee appeared on the count list for the first time this year.

Also, the largest-ever concentration of cedar waxwings was tallied in the 2012 count. A total of 245 of the berry-eating birds were spotted.

Results from Quincy's count will be added to other regional counts collected by volunteers across the United States, Canada, Central and South America, Bermuda, the West Indies and the Pacific islands. It's all part of what the Audubon Society calls "the longest-running citizen science survey in the world."

The Christmas bird count is so named because it started on Christmas Day in 1900 and has continued each holiday season since.





The following birds were tallied in Quincy's portion of the 113th annual Christmas bird count on Dec. 15:

European Starling 1,495

House Sparrow 604

Canada Goose 586

Dark-eyed Junco 436

Mallard 336

American Robin 321

Cedar Waxwing 245

Northern Cardinal 233

American Goldfinch 222

Mourning Dove 128

Black-capped Chickadee 122

Blue Jay 99

Tufted Titmouse 97

House Finch 92

Downy Woodpecker 91

American Tree Sparrow 89

American Crow 87

Horned Lark 86

White-breasted Nuthatch 82

White-throated Sparrow 73

Rock Pigeon 68

Red-bellied Woodpecker 66

Ring-billed Gull 54

Eastern Bluebird 49

American Kestrel 44

Red-winged Blackbird 40

Red-tailed Hawk 31

Purple Finch 29

Eastern Meadowlark 26

Bald Eagle 25

Hairy Woodpecker 24

Northern Flicker 20

Carolina Wren 20

Song Sparrow 20

Wild Turkey 19

Great Blue Heron 19

Chipping Sparrow 18

Trumpeter Swan 17

Wilsons' Snipe 17

Common Grackle 15

Pine Siskin 15

Red-breasted Nuthatch 14

Eurasian Tree Sparrow 14

Blue-winged Teal 12

Eurasian-collared Dove 12

White-crowned Sparrow 10

Lesser Scaup 7

Fox Sparrow 7

Turkey Vulture 7

Pileated Woodpecker 7

Snow Goose 5

Ring-necked Duck 5

Sharp-shinned Hawk 4

Coopers' Hawk 4

Belted Kingfisher 4

Kildeer 4

Green-winged Teal 3

Northern Harrier 3

Rough-legged Hawk 3

Red-headed Woodpecker 3

Double-crested Cormorant 3

Wood Duck 2

Northern Shoveler 2

Northern Pintail 2

Great Horned Owl 2

Barred Owl 2

Yellow-rumped Warbler 2

Swamp Sparrow 2

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2

Brown Creeper 1

Winter Wren 1

Golden-crowned Kinglet 1

Brown Thrasher 1

Eastern Towee 1

Herring Gull 1

Peregrine Falcon 1

Savannah Sparrow 1

Barn Owl 1

Lincoln Sparrow 1