Christmas Bird Count 2018

The 71st Burlington circle CBC went off without a hitch. With our new organizer, Elizabeth Spinney, firmly in control 68 observers set out into the field at dawn (or in the case of Allan Strong’s owling team before dawn) on December 16 to do the count. The weather was as good as could be expected with temperatures in the 30’s and no snow cover to speak of. The 15 teams plus the nocturnal team and the crow counters recorded 73 species, just short of our record of 77, and counted 13, 246 individual birds, well short of the 2014 record of 24, 306.

Highlights of the count were the steady increase in “southern” birds-Northern Cardinals (252), Tufted Titmouse (225), Carolina Wren (26), and Red-bellied Woodpecker (38). The latter three figures set new records for each of these species. Milder, shorter winters and the abundance of feeders probably contribute to the ability of these birds to overwinter in Vermont.

Common Redpoll  photo by Jim Morris

Common Redpoll

photo by Jim Morris

Another highlight was the return of the “irruptive” species to Vermont-Pine Grosbeaks (51) and Common Redpolls (22). These northern finches only appear in Vermont during the winter when food runs short in their Canadian homeland. Common Redpolls were last reported in our 2014 count and Pine Grosbeaks had not been seen since 2012. The appearance of both of these species was predicted by Ron Pittaway’s winter finch forecast (see previous HT article Happy Wanderers of the North) and are always a welcome sight in Vermont.

Other notable records were set for Cooper’s Hawk (11) and Barred Owls (13). Another reflection of the abundance of Barred Owls this year might be the apparent upsurge of these birds in rehabilitation units throughout the state and in their regular appearance in reports to VT eBird during the day.

A new record for Peregrine Falcons (6) was set this year, also. Peregrine Falcon recovery in Vermont has continued nicely as indicated by Audubon Vermont’s Peregrine Falcon Monitoring Project which occurs annually during the nesting season. Most of these birds migrate south, but an increasing number of falcons remain in Vermont for part or all of the winter.

On the downside the number and variety of waterfowl were diminished compared to previous years. This observation might reflect the relatively warm fall temperatures and the abundance of open water to the north. Similarly, Bald Eagle (2) numbers were significantly lower than in previous years. Since eagles often follow the ducks along the shoreline, reduced numbers might simply be due to the relative lack of ducks this year. The mid-winter eagle survey in January will provide more comprehensive information about the status of Bald Eagles in Vermont.

The data collected in Audubon Christmas Bird Counts throughout the world become part of a longstanding database that provides important information about the current status of birds in North america and elsewhere. For example, CBC data was incorporated into the National Audubon Society’s report on climate change and its effect on birds. Thanks to all of our participants for engaging in this enjoyable and informative activity.