Ross's Goose - Photo Earl Harrison

On December 18, 94 observers sponsored by Columbus Audubon spent the day counting birds in different areas of Columbus. The mixed weather left much water open, which was fine for dabbling ducks, but not so great for diving ducks, which stayed north of us. A series of cold snaps had depleted the wild food crops, so landbirds were in short supply. 18 teams were able to gather 78 species and 28,319 individuals, a good Count given the weird weather.

Count Date: December 18, 2022; 6:00 a.m. To 5:00 p.m.   Temp. 27 – 34 ºF. Wind SW 0-3 mph  Still water mostly open, moving water open. A.M. cloudy; P.M. cloudy. Observers: 94 in the field in 6-19 parties, 3 at feeders part of day.  Total party hours: 148 (116 on foot, 32 in cars).  Total Party miles: 303 (132 on foot, 171 in cars); owling: 3 hours, 12 miles

Pied-billed Grebe – 7; Double-crested Cormorant – 2; Great Blue Heron – 47; Mute Swan – 11; Snow Goose – 116 (3 different teams); Ross’s Goose – 5 (JK); Canada Goose – 1577; Wood Duck – 2; N. Shoveler – 2 (WK,AS); Black Duck – 14; Mallard –853 ; Mallard X Black Duck – 1; Green-winged Teal – 2 (B&LD); Gadwall – 98; American Wigeon – 1 (IS); N. Pintail – 1; Ring-necked Duck – 7; Bufflehead – 3; Hooded Merganser – 143; Ruddy Duck – 1; Wild Turkey – 17; American Coot – 1 (RR); Sharp-shinned Hawk – 2; Cooper’s Hawk – 20; Red-shouldered Hawk – 7; Red-tailed Hawk – 36; Bald Eagle – 28 (11 different teams); Peregrine – 2; Merlin – 5; American Kestrel – 6; Killdeer – 3 (LS); Ring-billed Gull – 486; Herring Gull – 11; Rock Dove – 773; Mourning Dove – 436; Great Horned Owl – 2; Barred Owl – 5; E.Screech Owl – 3 (JK, 2 different locations) ; Belted Kingfisher – 14; Red-headed Woodpecker – 7; Red-bellied Woodpecker – 198; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – 15; Downy Woodpecker – 187; Hairy Woodpecker – 32; N.Flicker – 49; Pileated Woodpecker – 18; Blue Jay – 336; American Crow – 243; Horned Lark – 1; Carolina Chickadee – 363; Tufted Titmouse – 136; White-breasted Nuthatch – 179; Red-breasted Nuthatch – 13; Brown Creeper – 26; Winter Wren – 3; Carolina Wren – 69; Golden-crowned Kinglet – 38; Eastern Bluebird – 113; Hermit Thrush – 1 (MJ); American Robin – 4330; N.Mockingbird – 8; European Starling – 13,323; Yellow-rumped Warbler – 20; Northern Cardinal – 687; Eastern Towhee – 33; American Tree Sparrow – 47; Field Sparrow – 2; Fox Sparrow – 3 (JK); Song Sparrow – 137; Swamp Sparrow – 6; Lincoln’s Sparrow – 1 (IS); White-throated Sparrow – 439; White-crowned Sparrow – 3; Dark-eyed Junco – 808; Red-winged Blackbird – 16; Common Grackle – 5; Brown-headed Cowbird – 4; House Finch – 573; American Goldfinch – 179; House Sparrow – 927

Totals:  78 species, 28,325 individuals

Birds seen Count Period, but not Count Day: Redhead, Greater Scaup, Common Merganser, Pine Warbler, Purple Finch, Pine Siskin

Observers: Julie Aldridge, Caitlin Anderson, Wendy Becker, Ray Beebe, Lisa Benjamin, Cody Berkebile, Becky Bradley, Donna Braig, Susan Braunig, John & Gerry Brevoort, Matt Bystrom, Brad, Lindsay, & Poppy Deering, Patty DeMaria, Amy Densborn, Matt DeTemple, Steve Draeger, Tim Fitzpatrick, Diana Fowler, Brad Gambill, Amy Girten, Michael Goldman, Paul Graham, Marge Greenhill, Elizabeth Hamilton, Deborah Hayhurst, Bill Heck, James Holmes, Laura Herrold Johnson, Marshall Johnson, David Kelley, William Kinkead, Jonathan Knape, Kristi Krumlauf, Jennifer Kuehn, John Kuenzli, Debbie Kurz, Kim Lascola, Noelle, Colin, James, Everett, & James Lenhart, Bruce & Helen Lindsay, Shellie & Sandie Lloyd, Heather Luedecke, Gavin Manion, Karen & Frank Martens, Bernie & Susan Master, Dawn & Chris McCoy, Wendy McGlynn, Darrell & Stacey McGrath, Bob McNulty, Joe Meara, Karl Mechem, Dick & Kathy Miller, Susan Miller, David Newman, Rob Oller, Lori Patterson, Chance Paznick, Douglas Perkins, Harrison Ponn, Pam Raver, Beth Riemenschneider, Robert Royse, Marcia Scott, Andy Sewell, Katelyn & Stacey Shelton, Irina Shulgina, Bruce Simpson, Shaune Skinner, Leslie Sours, Andy & Nathaniel Spector, Rob Thorn (compiler), Kasey Unser, Alan Wienberg, Stephanie West, Carl & Karen Winstead, Doug Whitman, Stephanie Williams, Lunar Young

Ross's Goose - Photo Earl Harrison
Ross’s Goose – Photo Earl Harrison

The Count Day was cool, after some mild days in December following early freezes. No cold weather usually means few diving ducks, and they had a very poor showing, with only a few Ring-necks (BM et al, C&KW), a trio of Buffleheads and 1 Ruddy (AntrimLake – SS,PG,JM),  Dabbling Ducks picked up some of the slack, however, with N.Pintail, N.Shovelers, American Wigeon, and Green-winged Teal, along with the expected mallards, Black Ducks, and Gadwalls.  The big story in waterfowl this year was ‘white’ geese. 3 different teams found flocks of Snow Geese, boosting our totals to 116, and sharp-eyed John Kuenzli snared 5 small Ross’s Geese among one of his flocks of Snows near 3-Creeks.

Raptors had a low year, except for Eagles.  Our Bald Eagle count soared to a minimum of 28 birds, with nearly every team seeing one or more.  However, accipiters and buteos were uniformly low, and we found no harriers.  Falcons held steady, with 2 Peregrines, 5 Merlins, and 6 Kestrels, close to our average for the past decade. Owls were boosted by 3 Screech owls ferreted out along the stream bottoms of 3-Creeks (JK). 5 Barred Owls was also a good total, scattered across 5 different territories.

If fruit-eaters were one of the big stories in last year’s count, they were a disappointment this year.

Mockingbird on a light post at Fernald
Northern Mockingbird

The early freezes forced the birds to deplete a mediocre berry crop, so that they were running low by mid-December.  Starlings & Robins, the biggest flockers of the fruit-eaters, did fine, with big numbers. Other more territorial fruit-eaters were not so lucky.  Bluebirds dropped from 146 to 113, Mockingbirds from 17 to 8, Hermit Thrushes from 9 to 1, White-throated Sparrows from 575 to 439, and we had no Cedar Waxwings at all, nor any lingering Catbirds.  Clearly, not every early winter is a fruit bonanza for these birds.

Field birds also had a down year. We were still able to find Killdeer (Waterman farms, LS), Horned Lark (Glenn Airport, RT), several kestrels, 2 Field Sparrows (JK), and 3 White-crowned Sparrows.  But harriers and meadowlarks continue to be rare in our circle, and we also failed to conjure up Savannah Sparrows or longspurs.  Even Blackbirds were in short supply, with only a few Redwings, Grackles, and Cowbirds, and no Rusties. When you can count the large open spaces in our circle on one hand, the future does not look bright for these birds around Columbus.

Lincoln's Sparrow - Photo Earl Harrison
Lincoln’s Sparrow – Photo Earl Harrison

Finally, the weird weather played havoc with any lingering insectivores.  We did manage to unearth a few Winter Wrens, and the expected handful of Golden-crowned Kinglets.  A Lincoln’s Sparrow returned for a 3rd year to the OSU Main campus (IS), and 3 Fox Sparrows were down at 3-Creeks (JK).  But we had no Ruby-crowned Kinglets or late unusual warblers, one of the few times in the past 20 years that we’ve struck out on both of those. Even our resident ‘insectivores’, Carolina Wrens, had a miserable Count, falling from 138 to 69.

After last year, we boldly predicted that following years should see more warm weather and strays. This year, we’ll just have to ‘eat crow’, if we can be allowed that metaphor in an Audubon report. We still think that’s a good prognostication; it just didn’t work out this year.  But as we get more suburban yards and parks replacing open space, our chances for many strays probably will slowly increase, given the feeders & fruit trees that will come with this transformation.  This year, however, showed that climate change doesn’t just mean ‘warmer’, it also means ‘unpredictable’. Stay tuned and come back to help us next year!