Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Photo Andy Morffew

On December 19, 88 observers sponsored by Columbus Audubon spent the day counting birds in different areas of Columbus in the Christmas Bird Count.  Relatively mild weather reduced the numbers of waterfowl, but allowed a good diversity of dabbling ducks to linger.   The effects on landbirds were even more striking, with large numbers of fruit-eaters and a variety of unusual lingering species.  19 teams were able to garner 86 species and  23,466 individuals, a very good Columbus CBC by most measures.


Count Date: December 19, 2021; 6:00 a.m. To 5:00 p.m.     Temp. 29 – 34 ºF.  Wind SW 0-3 mph   Still water mostly open, moving water open.  A.M. cloudy;  P.M. cloudy.  Observers: 86 in the field in  6-19 parties, 2 at feeders.   Total party hours:  150 (134 on foot, 16 in cars).   Total Party miles:  290 (134 on foot, 156 in cars)

Palm Warbler - Photo Earl Harrison
Palm Warbler – Photo Earl Harrison

Species Seen

Pied-billed Grebe – 10;  Double-crested Cormorant – 3;  Great Blue Heron – 34;  Black-crowned Night Heron – 1 (IS) ;  Mute Swan – 13Trumpeter Swan – 7 (D&SM );  Canada Goose – 1312; Wood Duck – 7;  Black Duck – 24;  Mallard – 935;  Blue-winged Teal – 1 (SB);  N.Shoveler – 3;  Gadwall – 33;  American Wigeon – 3;  Ring-necked Duck – 5;  Bufflehead – 2;  Hooded Merganser – 228;  Wild Turkey –  107;  American Coot – 1;  Black Vultures – 5 (BG, D&SM);  Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1;  Cooper’s Hawk – 20; Red-shouldered Hawk – 15;  Red-tailed Hawk – 47;  Bald Eagle – 14;  Merlin – 5;  American Kestrel – 4;  Killdeer – 1 (BK);  Bonaparte’s Gull – 1;  Ring-billed Gull – 527;  Herring Gull – 1;  Rock Dove – 662;  Mourning Dove – 645;  Great Horned Owl – 3;  Barred Owl – 3;  Belted Kingfisher – 15;  Red-headed Woodpecker – 7;  Red-bellied Woodpecker – 207;  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – 8;  Downy Woodpecker – 232;  Hairy Woodpecker – 16;  N.Flicker – 61;  Pileated Woodpecker – 10;  Blue Jay – 382;  American Crow – 430;  Horned Lark – 10;  Carolina Chickadee – 396;  Tufted Titmouse – 151;  White-breasted Nuthatch – 190;  Red-breasted Nuthatch – 16;  Brown Creeper – 37;  Winter Wren – 2;  Carolina Wren – 138;  Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 1;  Golden-crowned Kinglet – 83Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – 1 (D&SM);  Eastern Bluebird – 142;  Hermit Thrush – 9; American Robin – 2768;  Gray Catbird – 1 (LB,LP);  N.Mockingbird – 17;  European Starling – 9179;  Cedar Waxwing – 138;  Orange-crowned Warbler – 1 (RR);  Yellow-rumped Warbler – 49;  Palm Warbler – 2 (AE,LS)Black-throated Green Warbler – 1 (CW,KW);  Northern Cardinal – 597;  Eastern Towhee – 10;  American Tree Sparrow – 17;  Field Sparrow – 2;  Fox Sparrow – 4  (JP, JM, BM); Song Sparrow – 169;  Swamp Sparrow – 7;  Lincoln’s Sparrow – 1 (IS);  White-throated Sparrow – 525;  White-crowned Sparrow – 37;  Dark-eyed Junco – 315;  Red-winged Blackbird – 101;  Rusty Blackbird – 16;  Common Grackle – 280;  Brown-headed Cowbird – 338;  House Finch – 455;  American Goldfinch – 353;  Pine Siskin – 2 (JK);  House Sparrow – 855

Totals:   86 species,  23,466 individuals

Birds seen Count Period, but not Count Day:  Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture

Ruddy Duck - Photo Earl Harrison
Ruddy Duck – Photo Earl Harrison


Julie Aldridge, Wendy Becker, Lisa Benjamin, Becky Bradley, Susan Braunig, Ed & Sheila Bremmer, Linda Brenner, John & Gerry Brevoort, Susan Brickner-Wren, Matt Bystrom, Brad, Lindsay, & Poppy Deering,  Amy Densborn,  Steve Draeger,  Brian Dray, Alex Eberts,  John Finn, Tim Fitzpatrick, Diana Fowler,  Brad Gambill, Michael Goldman, Jeff Grabmeier, Paul Graham, Marge Greenhill,  Elizabeth Hamilton, Deborah Hayhurst, Bill & Mary Heck, James Holmes,  Marshall Johnson,  David Kelley,  William Kinkead,  Jonathan Knape, Jennifer Kuehn,  Debbie Kurz, Noelle & James Lenhart, Bruce & Helen Lindsay; Heather Luedecke, Karen & Frank Martens, Bernie Master, Jim McCormac, Darrell & Stacey McGrath, Joe Meara, Karl Mechem,  Janet Meier,  Dick & Kathy Miller, Susan Miller, James Muller,  Dai Newman,  David Newman,  Bridget & Vincent O’Riordan, Rick Oxley, Jason Parrish, Lori Patterson, Sam Pollock, Pam Raver, Beth Riemenschneider,  Sam Rockwell,  Robert Royse, Marcia Scott, Brian & Leah Sellers, Andy Sewell, Colleen Sharkey, Katelyn Shelton, Irina Shulgina, Bruce Simpson, Shaune Skinner, Leslie Sours, Doug Szymkowiak, Rob Thorn (compiler), Chris Tonra, Tim Velazco, Alan Wienberg,  Stephanie West,  Carl & Karen Winstead, Doug Whitman, Stephanie Williams

Merlin - Photo Lee Jaffe
Merlin – Photo Lee Jaffe


Columbus counters again found out that the CBC count day is the sum of its prior weeks.  The Count Day was relatively mild, with few freezes in the prior month.  No cold weather meant few diving ducks, which had a very poor showing, rivaling 2019.  However, we did manage to scrounge a few good waterfowl, including 7 Trumpeter Swans by 2 teams, a rare Blue-winged Teal below Griggs Dam (SB), and a spate of dabbling ducks at the Wastewater Treatment Plant that included Wood Ducks, Gadwall, Shovelers, and Wigeon (JF, SBW, et al.)

Raptors had a meh year, showing numbers on the low side, with a few exceptions.  We finally hit our first Black Vultures, with 3 at Blendon Woods (MG) and another 2 at Quarry Trails (D & SM).  Unfortunately, a Turkey Vulture turned up at Blendon Woods 3 days after the Count.  Our Bald Eagle numbers stayed gratifyingly high, with 14 birds; they seem to like our city in winter.  Our Red-shouldered Hawk total also jumped, to a modern record of 15 birds;  several teams had multiple birds, often as adult pairs.   Our Merlin total dipped a bit to 5 birds, but these sharp little falcons still look to be attracted here by our huge starling & robin flocks. 

Owl numbers were modest, with 3 Great Horned & 3 Barred, but the story here was the owlers.  Long-time participants Dick & Kathy Miller were making their usual owling run when their car was broadsided by an errant driver.   Impressively, they dealt with the accident and subsequent towing, and then returned to the field to lead their Jefferson Township team to a good morning total.  We’re amazed at their dedication & focus, and hope that the accident will not leave any permanent scars, physically or emotionally.

Fruit-eaters were one of the big stories of the Count.  Large crops of honeysuckle and callery pear fruits held huge flocks of robins & starlings in town.  We had nearly 10,000 starlings without having any large roosts in town, and our 146 E.Bluebirds was quite high. 9 Hermit Thrushes was also noteworthy, as was another lingering Gray Catbird found on the Blacklick Creek Greenway (LB,LP).  With suburban neighborhoods, and their fruit-bearing yard- and street-trees, along with all the feral honeysuckles and callery pears, fruit eaters will continue to be a big winter story here.

Field birds continue to linger in our few remaining pockets of farmland & fields.   Though we whiffed on harriers, Savannah Sparrows, and meadowlarks, sharp-eyed teams were still able to garner a Killdeer at 3-Creeks (WK), Horned Larks at Waterman Farms (LS,AE), several kestrels, and 3 groups of White-crowned Sparrows.   The big news here was blackbirds, with several large flocks hanging around farms on the southeast edge of the circle, and supplying us with good numbers of Redwings & Cowbirds, along with some highly sought-after Rusty Blackbirds.

The biggest story, though, was the lingering insectivores.   Not only did we have large numbers of kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers, and sparrows, but the variety of rarities was eye-popping.   A very late Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was described well from north Quarry Trails (D&SM).   Waterman Farms had 2 very cold-looking Palm Warblers along the edge of a field (AE, LS).   An Orange-crowned Warbler taunted teams around Scioto Audubon and the Wastewater Plant for weeks before being seen down at Stoneridge Park (RR) at the southwest edge of the circle.   Most unusual was a beautiful male Black-throated Green Warbler found foraging along the Scioto River bikepath in Grandview (CW,KW).  A Lincoln’s Sparrow spent its second winter on the OSU campus (IS), where it has been seen & photographed by many.  A startling 4 Fox Sparrows were on the Count, with 1 at Greenlawn cemetery (JM, BM) and 3 scattered near Innis Park (JP).   Whew, I get dizzy just trying to remember all these records!

So what does this mean for the future?  Thanks to all your volunteer counting, we’re starting to get some ideas.  I know it might be cold & icy when you read this, but our CBC trends suggest climate change and bird displacement are already happening.   Our milder weather is encouraging more lingering dabblers & migrant landbirds, while allowing other waterfowl & raptors to winter further north than us.   It’s weird, but our counts are now starting to mirror Cincinnati’s CBCs of the 1980s & 90s.   You may not want to put away the mittens & caps just yet, but winter birding now is getting a lot more interesting here.

Editor’s note: Columbus Audubon sends out a huge thank-you to Rob Thorn and all of the volunteers who make the Christmas Bird Count happen! The CBC is the longest-running community science project in North America. You can learn more about the CBC at the National Audubon Society website.