Gray Catbird - Photo Earl Harrison

Summary

On December 14, 80 observers sponsored by CAS spent the day counting birds in different areas of Columbus.  A mild, pleasant day made for easy travel, but seemed to depress bird numbers for many teams. Despite this, observers were still able to ring up totals of 82 species and 53,162 individual birds.

Count Date: December 14; 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.     Temp. 32-40 ºF.  Wind SW 0-3 mph   Still water partly frozen, moving water open.  A.M. Partly cloudy;  P.M. Partly cloudy.  Observers: 74 in the field in 16-21 parties, 6 at feeders.   Total party hours:  171 (127 on foot, 43 in cars, 1 on bike; 3 owling).   Total Party miles: 403 (133 on foot, 270 in cars, 3 on bike; 5 owling)

Pied-billed Grebe – 16;  Double-crested Cormorant –56;  Great Blue Heron – 41;  Mute Swan – 7;  Canada Goose – 2065;  Wood Duck – 5;  Black Duck – 173;  Mallard – 1013; N. Shoveler – 10;  Green-winged Teal – 4;  Gadwall – 17;  American Wigeon – 1; Redhead – 4; Lesser Scaup – 2; Ring-necked Duck – 141;  Bufflehead – 11; Hooded Merganser – 146; Ruddy Duck – 1; Bald Eagle – 4;  Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1; Cooper’s Hawk – 30; N. Harrier – 2;  Red-shouldered Hawk – 2;  Red-tailed Hawk – 69Merlin1;  American Kestrel – 4;  Wild Turkey – 49;  American Coot – 73; Ring-billed Gull – 2874;  Herring Gull – 39;  Rock Dove –1085;  Mourning Dove – 878;  E. Screech Owl – 2; Great Horned Owl – 4;  Barred Owl – 9;  Belted Kingfisher – 15;  Red-headed Woodpecker – 13 (2 groups); Red-bellied Woodpecker – 171;  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – 11;  Downy Woodpecker – 250;  Hairy Woodpecker – 37;  N.Flicker – 40;  Pileated Woodpecker – 14;  Blue Jay – 383;  American Crow – 187;  Horned Lark – 18;  Carolina Chickadee – 518;  Tufted Titmouse – 165;  White-breasted Nuthatch – 149;   Red-breasted Nuthatch – 4;  Brown Creeper – 36;  Carolina Wren – 117; Winter Wren – 2;   Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 1;  Golden-crowned Kinglet – 17;  Eastern Bluebird – 60;  Hermit Thrush – 2;  American Robin – 1692;  N.Mockingbird – 34;  European Starling – 36,648;  Cedar Waxwing – 87;  Nashville Warbler1 (AE,AE);  Pine Warbler1 (BS,GM) ;  Yellow-rumped Warbler – 22;  Northern Cardinal – 551;  Eastern Towhee – 17;  American Tree Sparrow – 63;  Field Sparrow – 3;  Chipping Sparrow – 10 (AN et al.);  Song Sparrow – 142;  Swamp Sparrow – 11;  White-throated Sparrow – 408;  White-crowned Sparrow – 17;  Dark-eyed Junco – 419;  Red-winged Blackbird – 24;  Common Grackle – 1;  Brown-headed Cowbird – 3;  House Finch – 396;  Purple Finch – 1;   American Goldfinch – 345;  Pine Siskin – 5;  House Sparrow – 1387

Totals:   82 species,  53,162 individuals

Birds seen Count Period, but not Count Day:  Peregrine Falcon,  Gray Catbird

Observers

Robin Bautista-Jiminez, Wendy Becker, Linda Benner, Mindy Billingham, Steven Bischoff, Charlie Bombaci, Terri Boz,  John & Gerry Brevoort, Nancy Bringardner, Lynda & Steve Burger,  Susan Burton, Kristen Burton, Stephanie Burton, Alex Champagne, Ashley & Matt Collins, Rose Conrad, Ken  & Julie Davis, Daphne Dodson, Alex Eberts, Craig Ebersole, Sheila Fagan, Diana Fowler, Brad Gambill, Louise Gambill, Paul Gardner, Yvette Higgins, Dave Horn, Paul Hurtado, Mike & Becky Jordan, Shakita Kabicek, Bill Kinkead, Jennifer Kuehn, Jonathan Knape, Helen & Bruce Lindsay, Heather Luedecke, Stephanie & Natalia Malinich, Neil Marquard,  Bernie Master, Carolyn May, Jim McCormac,  Bob & Elaine McNulty, Joe Meara, Barbara Merritt, Dick & Kathy Miller, Greg Miller, Susan Moore, Diana Morse, James Muller, Angelika Nelson, Sharon Newell, Sam Pollock, Jeff Pontius, Pam Raver, Cheri Rida,, Robert Royse, Dan Sanders, Andy Sewell, Darlene Sillick, Bruce Simpson, Shaun Skinner, Leslie Sours, Brad Sparks, Gene Stauffer, Andy Steele, Rick Stelzer, Charlotte Thielbert, Rob Thorn (compiler), Dick Tuttle, Pam Unger, Bill & Hester Virgin,  Bill Whan

Narrative

The 2014 Columbus CBC dawned to an unusually nice day, with no bad weather and temperatures above freezing for most of the day.  The nice weather may have been a curse, however, as many teams complained of a slow day, with birds widely scattered and in low numbers.  Despite these misgivings, the Count turned in a total of 82 species and 53,162 individuals, both good numbers and above the long-term average.  Species number was down a bit from the past 2 years, but the total individuals was relatively large, mostly due to 2 enormous Starling roosts in the circle this year.

In a switch from recent trends, teams north of Broad St. generally had a better day than teams south of it.  Blendon Woods had a startling 51 species, their all time high, which included 10 species of duck, Screech Owl, and a Pine Warbler (Bruce Simpson, Greg Miller, et al.).  The nearby Jefferson Township Team had a great day as well, highlighted by 12 Red-headed Woodpeckers, a Red-br.Nuthatch, 65 Cedar Waxwings, and a small flock of Red-winged Blackbirds (Dick & Kathy Miller, Brad Gambill, Becky & Mike Jordan, Bruce & Helen Lindsay, and Sam Pollock).  Gahanna chipped in with our only Sharp-shinned Hawk, 27 E.Bluebirds, and lots of woodpeckers (Bob McNulty, Susan Moore, Diana Fowler).  The Sunbury Rd corridor & Airport finally received good coverage and produced a Great Horned Owl, 13 Red-tailed Hawks, 5 Sapsuckers, and our only Ruby-cr.Kinglet (James Muller, Shakita Kabicek).  The Blendon Township team tacked on a Barred Owl, a Pileated Woodpecker, and lots of flock birds from a very suburban area (Charlie Bombaci, Craig Ebersole)

The OSU East-Clintonville team, which is actually a cluster of teams, had an eventful count.  Despite the loss of long-time organizer Don Burton, his daughter Stephanie stepped in and coordinated a great effort.  Their OSU wetland team produced 2 of our best birds: a Merlin at the Union Cemetery and a rare Nashville Warbler – our first – at the OSU Wetland (Alex Champaign, Alex Eberts, Robin Bautista-Jiminez).  Other groups pulled in a Red-shouldered Hawk, 1 Screech Owl, 3 Barred Owls, and a slew of Blue Jays and woodpeckers.   The OSU WestCampus team rooted through Waterman Farms and West Campus to ferret out 3 Cooper’s Hawks, 2 Field Sparrows, 2 White-crowned Sparrows, and an eye-popping 10 Chipping Sparrows (which totally tops our Count Record) (Angelika Nelson, Heather Luedecke, Rose Conrad, Steph & Natalia Malinich, and Daphne Dotson).  Bob Royse again showed how indispensable the Grandview-Griggs area is to our totals by snaring 6 diving duck species, our only Coot flock, 7 Pied-billed Grebes, and 13 Brown Creepers.

South of Broad St.it was mostly a different story, with more work for fewer birds.  This is very unusual, as these teams were the main drivers of our big totals the past few years.  The Scioto Audubon-Berliner Park team scored 39 species, including a Bald Eagle, 5 Wood Ducks, 7 Pied-billed Grebes, and our new record total for Cormorants, 53 (Jeff Pontius, Joe Meara, Linda Benner, Wendy Becker, Pam Unger).  The Greenlawn-Quarries team tacked on 3 more Bald Eagles, 7 species of waterfowl,  a sapsucker, a Pine Siskin, and 8 Swamp Sparrows (Jim McCormac, Bernie Master).  The South River team worked areas from the Wastewater Plant over to Obetz, finding 42 species, including a N.Harrier, 3 Bald Eagles, 2000+ Ring-billed Gulls, 2 Pileated Woodpeckers, and our only Common Grackle (Paul Gardiner, Andy Sewell, Bill Whan, Brad Sparks).  The 3-Creeks team scoured the area in and around that vast MetroPark, tallying up 39 species, including 8 N.Shovelers, 4 Cooper’s Hawks, 12 Red-tails, 15 Horned Larks, 10 White-crowned Sparrows, and a god-fearing total of 21,000+ Starlings (Rick Stelzer, Darlene Sillick, Leslie Sours, and Steve Bischoff).  The Lower Walnut Creek Valley – Noe Bixby team got short-shrift, getting only partial coverage, but still pulled out a N.Harrier and a Winter Wren among the more expected birds.  The BlacklickMetroPark-Reynoldsburg team pulled up 41 species, including 5 Cooper’s Hawks, 2 Barred Owls, 8 E.Towhees, and 3 Pine Siskins (Pam Raver, Gene Stauffer, Rob Thorn, Diana Morse).  The Downtown-Bexley team was short-handed with the loss of Brad & Lyndsey Deering to childbirth, but a few others pulled in to catch 21 species, including a Cooper’s Hawk and another 12,000 Starlings (Lynda & Steve Berger, Rob Thorn).

So what are the patterns revealed in this 2014 Count?  Aside from the fact that we’re awash in Starlings, bird numbers are really good in Columbus in early winter now.  With the diversity of waterfowl plus the increasing numbers of lingering fruit-eaters and insectivores, the early CBC period is looking suspiciously like the last part of migration.  We can also spotlight particular species that have boomed or gone bust in this brave new bird order.  Who’s Hot & who’s not?

What’s Hot

Hawks – we set our all-time record for Red-tailed Hawks (69) and had our 3rd highest total for Cooper’s Hawks (30), so there was a whole lotta huntin’ goin’ on.  This speaks to the large numbers of prey animals – birds, rodents, squirrels – that are finding winter more tolerable in the urban spread of Columbus than in the surrounding countryside.

Ring-billed Gulls – They’ve discovered central Ohio, big time.  Several teams had over a thousand, and I had to figure out the overlap.  Small groups were commuting up and down the Scioto and Olentangy all day, and big flocks were south of downtown.  Perhaps our City seal should have a gull on it somewhere, probably making off with a french fry.

Woodpeckers – call it the Delayed EAB Boom, but we had all-time highs for Red-bellied, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers, and a third highest total for Downies.  Of course, all the dead & dying ash trees are offering them both food and shelter, so should we be surprised?

Blue Jay – if the Blue Noisemakers have seemed more ubiquitous this year, well, they are.  Our 383 wasn’t a record, but it was close.  Many teams had them in double digits, which is unusual.  A good acorn crop on Pin Oaks, a common urban planting, probably helped to lure them into town.

What’s Not

Common Goldeneye – a bird that used to show up in double digits in the 80s and 90s has now dwindled to nothing.   Formerly common along our rivers in winter, most of these birds apparently now stay further north in December.  If we had waited until the freezes of February, we would have seen some.

Black-crowned Night Herons – they went AWOL for the first time in many years.  Chased off their Olentangy roost several years ago by the reconstruction of the river through the OSU Campus, they’ve just never found another suitable, stable location.

Tufted Titmice – 165 might seem like a decent total, but it’s a little below prior years.  At a time when chickadee and nuthatch numbers are booming, the static populations of this cute little parid remain troubling.

Blackbirds – where were they?  The nice weather should have kept many more of them around, but our numbers remained paltry.  They may need a critical mass of birds to form roosts, and we just may not have that number of birds any more, particularly with our dwindling farmland areas.