May 20, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 05 April 2012 14:55
This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count “recorded the most unusual winter for birds in the count’s 15-year history,” the Cornell Lab of Ornithology reported a couple weeks ago.
The 17.4 million bird observations in 104,000 checklists were the most detailed four-day snapshot ever recorded for birdlife in the U.S. and Canada, Cornell said.
Participants reported 623 species Feb. 17 to 20, including an influx of Snowy Owls from the arctic into some parts of the country, early-migrating Sandhill Cranes, and Belted Kingfishers in northern areas that might normally be frozen over.
“The maps on the GBBC website this year are absolutely stunning,” said John Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. They show many species in larger numbers farther north than usual, “no doubt because of this winter’s record-breaking mild conditions.”
Oddly enough, a few arctic species also moved farther south than usual. Participants recorded Snowy Owls in record-breaking numbers throughout the Great Plains and Pacific Northwest. Canadian bird watchers saw four times the number of Snowy Owls they reported to the count last year. “Experts believe that Snowy Owls move south from their usual arctic habitats in years when prey, such as lemmings, are scarce,” Cornell said.
“Warmer weather and lack of snow and ice in some regions set the stage for other spectacles, including more than two million Snow Geese reported on two counts at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri,” Cornell said. “In Ruskin, Florida, participants reported more than one million Tree Swallows, vaulting this species to the GBBC top-ten list of the most numerous birds for the first time ever.”
Some northern locations recorded high numbers of waterbirds such as Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and American Coots, that either never left or came back early to lakes, rivers, and ponds that remained unfrozen.
“Citizen scientists are helping us document changes to birds, starting in our own backyards, which is also where the solution begins,” said chief scientist Gary Langham of National Audubon, a co-sponsor of the count. “My preschool-age daughter came out with me to count birds in the yard and around the neighborhood — we’re still talking about the experience weeks later.”
Top 10 birds reported on the most checklists in the 2012 GBBC were:
1. Northern Cardinal
2. Mourning Dove
3. Dark-eyed Junco
4. Downy Woodpecker
5. American Crow
6. House Finch
7. American Goldfinch
8. Blue Jay
9. Black-capped Chickadee
10. Tufted Titmouse
In Connecticut, the top 10 on report lists were:
1. Black-capped Chickadee
2. Tufted Titmouse
3. Mourning Dove
4. Dark-eyed Junco
5. Northern Cardinal
6. Downy Woodpecker
7. White-breasted Nuthatch
8. Blue Jay
9. Red-bellied Woodpecker
10. American Crow
To find out more about the 2012 count, visit www.birdcount.org. To report bird sightings all year, visit www.ebird.org. Incidentally, the count is sponsored in part by Wild Birds Unlimited, which has stores in Darien and Bedford Hills.
Though we had gotten no sightings from readers as of Sunday, there have been reports on hummingbirds.net of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds being seen in our region. So on Sunday, we mixed up nectar (quarter cup of white sugar to cup of water), put out the feeders, and crossed our fingers.
Males usually appear first, scouting out the territory. Ones seen now may be just stopping to refuel on their way to parts north — hummingbirds nest as far north as southern Canada.
Have you ever seen a bird build a nest in a bizarre location? If so, you may be interested in the “first annual Wacky Nest Quest Photo Contest,” sponsored by Connecticut Audubon Society. Winning entries will receive special prizes at a reception this summer and be featured on Connecticut Audubon’s website.
Spring Migration Bird Walks: Bring binoculars and/or a camera, no charge or RSVP required, Saturdays: April 7, 14, 21, 28, May 5, 12, 19, 26, meet in Audubon Greenwich parking area at 613 Riversville Road, 203-869-5272 x230, greenwich.audubon.org.
Birding by Ear, indoor discussion of how and why birds vocalize, plus recordings, then outdoor walk to practice, Saturday, May 5, 9:30 to noon, $15 adults, kids free, Audubon Greenwich, 613 Riversville Road, 203-869-5272 x230, greenwich.audubon.org
Copyright 2012 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] gmail.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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