Warm Weather Holds Down Christmas Bird Count Stats

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
There were a couple surprises but the area’s three Christmas Bird Counts this season were fairly mediocre thanks to El Niño.

“The counts have been pretty slow this year because the weather’s just been too mild,” said John McKee, Starved Rock Audubon Society member from Ottawa.

“There’s been nothing to concentrate the birds, nothing frozen, no snow cover,” McKee said. “In general the total number of birds was down, especially the woodland birds. They were scattered out and hard to find.”

McKee joined other bird watchers in the Dec. 17 count at Hennepin, the Dec. 20 count at Starved Rock and the Jan. 1 count at Illini State Park.

“Eagle numbers of course are low because it’s been so mild. They haven’t been pushed down from up north,” he said. “In all accounts it seems like owls are getting harder to find.”
Hennepin logged a little more than 60 species, about average, he said.

“The most unusual find on the count was a palm warbler which, considering the weather was not a huge surprise, but it was the first time we ever found one on a Christmas count,” McKee said.

Other Hennepin birds included an eastern phoebe and 15 swans, including one trumpeter swan.

“We did have a pretty decent list of ducks and that’s what got our numbers up,” McKee said. “We had no mourning doves on the Hennepin count. I don’t think I’ve ever done a count where we didn’t find a mourning dove.”

At Starved Rock, counters found pelicans, sandhill cranes and a shrike. Total species were average, in the 50s, McKee said. At Illini State Park, counters found a black scoter (a duck) and eight turkey vultures that should have migrated south.

“That’s another sign of a mild winter,” McKee said. “They are undoubtedly finding dead deer out there and managing to survive just fine without going south.”

The National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Counts are held Dec. 14 to Jan. 5 to assess bird populations and guide conservation efforts.

Within a 15-mile diameter circle, birdwatchers count and record all birds and species they can find on one day. This year the society logged 541 counts and counted more than 15 million birds. The first count was held Christmas Day, 1900 as an alternative to the holiday sport of shooting birds.

Source: News Tribune