Blue Jay - Photo Shenandoah NP

Columbus CBC Observers Dodge Nasty Weather to Tally Urban Birds

On December 30, 41 observers sponsored by CAS spent the day counting birds in different areas of Columbus. The late date was due to a postponement from the original date of December 16 because of icy, windy conditions. Rather than risk the observers and the birds, the CBC date was moved back 2 weeks. Several teams couldn’t make the new date, but we lucked into decent weather. The final total was 75 species and 25,625 individual birds, which was a very good count given the delay and poor wild food crop.

With all of the weird weather and glitches that beset this CBC, it was great to see a good crew gather a good count. Nice finds included Canvasbacks and Redheads on the Watermark Quarries (several parties), a Snow Goose at Waterman Farms and a Merlin at the OSU wetlands (Landes & Grabmeier), several Fox Sparrows (multiple parties), a Purple Finch at a Feeder in 3-Creeks Park (Maruster & Gorbet), and Pine Siskins lurking in Upper Arlington (Powlick).

Count Trends

Crows and Blue Jays continue their steady rebound from their West Nile Virus lows earlier in the decade, while Starlings, Canada Geese, and Ring-billed Gulls continue to find winter to their liking here in Columbus. In the glib tradition of local news, we offer you a brief summary of some unusual trends on this year’s count:

Who’s Hot

  1. Mute Swans. The big white wonders showed up on several territories this year, which could be good or bad news. They were formerly occasional on the count, but look to be a regular performer now.
  2. Other Waterfowl. Perhaps the cold pushed them down at just the right time, but rarely have we had a count that had such a nice spectrum of waterfowl. Some ducks like Gadwall, Shovelers, and Scaup used to be nice surprises, but this year they were seen in numbers by multiple parties.
  3. Ring-billed Gulls. Every year we think we’ll get a few, and each year we seem to get much more. This year I finally was shocked into reality with big flocks at several spots. Watching 400+ birds loaf around a shopping center parking lot changes your perception of how well these adaptable gulls are doing, even here far away from Lake Erie.
  4. Woodpeckers. They were everywhere, with good numbers of just about every species. Especially gratifying were a high number of Pileateds
    these big woodpeckers seem to be doing well in our remaining greenbelts. Hairies, sapsuckers, red-bellies, and even normally-rare Red-headeds put up good numbers. Maybe these are our first line defenders against the ash borer.
  5. Blue Jays. They continue their rebound from their WNV troubles. Many parties had good numbers, especially in oak areas like Blacklick Woods, Blendon Woods, or the Columbus Country Club.
  6. Swamp Sparrows. These elusive little sparrows were surprisingly widespread, with 7/14 parties reporting them, often more than one. Eye-popping were the 15 found by the intrepid Jefferson Township party. We can only suspect that the recent freezes pushed them into town.

Who’s Not

  1. Open-country raptors. These are a continual casualty of our shrinking open spaces. No harriers were found this year, and kestrel numbers continued their slow steady decline. Short of bulldozing some of our superfluous housing developments, there’s little we can do to remedy this loss in Columbus.
  2. Fruit-eating birds. You knew it was going to be bad when you saw our meager crop of berries stripped by hungry birds back in mid-December. We found a few tough flocks of Robins, but no waxwings, hermit thrushes, or late thrashers & catbirds. This was the final echo of last Spring’s late frost, which froze many flowers, cutting into the subsequent berry crop.
  3. Brown Creepers. Where were they? Several parties mentioned poor numbers
    I spent most of the morning in perfect creeper habitat and saw nary a one. Nuthatches & woodpeckers had good years, but they can switch to seeds & mast. Perhaps last Spring’s frost also depressed numbers of bark-living insects and their eggs.
  4. Kinglets & Red-br.Nuthatches. Yes, they’re still here, but not in nearly the numbers that they sported just a month ago. Both of these species were actually hard to find for most parties, which would not have been the case back at Thanksgiving.
  5. Larks, Pipits, Meadowlarks – Just like the open-country raptors, these birds are evaporating with each new subdivision. Other more rural counts had good numbers this year because of the cold weather, but we just don’t have much habitat for these birds anymore.
  6. Blackbirds. Hardly any, which stands in vivid contrast with the huge flocks just a few miles south of us, near Circleville and Chillicothe. Maybe there was enough waste grain down there to keep the flocks from straying too far north.


Count Date and Time: December 30, 7:30 a.m. To 5:30 p.m.
Weather: Temp. 30 to 38. Wind WSW 0-5 mph Still water partly frozen, moving water open. A.M. Partly cloudy. P.M. overcast.Observers: 38 in the field in 13-14 parties, 3 at feeders. Total party hours: 100 (86 on foot, 14 in cars). Total Party miles: 165 (75 on foot, 90 in cars) Owling: 2 hours
Pied-billed Grebe – 8
Double-crested Cormorant –1
Great Blue Heron – 30
Black-cr.Night Heron – 15
Mute Swan – 4
Canada Goose – 1829
Snow Goose – 1
Wood Duck – 12
Black Duck – 619
Mallard – 1008
Green-winged Teal – 3
Gadwall – 64
N.Shoveler – 3
Canvasback – 2
Redhead – 5
Ring-necked Duck – 131
Lesser Scaup – 47
Common Goldeneye – 1
Hooded Merganser – 42
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 5
Cooper’s Hawk – 18
Red-tailed Hawk – 49
American Kestrel – 3
Merlin – 1
Ring-necked Pheasant – 2
American Coot – 156
Ring-billed Gull – 1072
Herring Gull – 2
Rock Dove – 1200
Mourning Dove – 868
Great Horned Owl – 2
Barred Owl – 3
Belted Kingfisher – 26
Red-headed Woodpecker – 4 (2 parties)
Red-bellied Woodpecker – 112
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – 8
Downy Woodpecker – 186
Hairy Woodpecker – 21
N.Flicker – 36
Pileated Woodpecker – 12
Blue Jay – 278
American Crow – 2170
Carolina Chickadee – 433
Tufted Titmouse – 154
White-breasted Nuthatch – 144
Red-breasted Nuthatch – 16
Brown Creeper – 6
Carolina Wren – 66
Winter Wren – 3
Golden-crowned Kinglet – 4
Horned Lark – 1
Eastern Bluebird – 38
American Robin – 512
N.Mockingbird – 14
European Starling – 10,890
Yellow-rumped Warbler – 26
Eastern Towhee – 14
American Tree Sparrow – 118
Field Sparrow – 1
Song Sparrow – 107
Eastern Fox Sparrow – 3
Swamp Sparrow – 21 (high)
White-throated Sparrow – 342
White-crowned Sparrow – 10
Dark-eyed Junco – 276
Red-winged Blackbird – 3
Common Grackle – 30
Brown-headed Cowbird – 1
N.Cardinal – 656
Purple Finch – 1
House Finch – 287
American Goldfinch – 340
Pine Siskin – 2
House Sparrow – 977

Totals: 75 species, 25,625 individuals
Species seen count week but not count day: Greater Scaup. Red-br.Merganser. Bonaparte’s Gull, Pine Warbler


  • Charles Bombaci
  • Barb Christel
  • Andrea Cook
  • Ken Davis
  • Brad & Lindsay Deering
  • Sheila Fagan
  • Diana Fowler
  • Larry Gorbet
  • Jeff Grabmeier
  • Bret Graves
  • Kay Greisen
  • Bill Heck
  • Becky Jordan
  • Bill Kinkead
  • Steve Landes
  • Bruce & Helen Lindsay
  • Rob Lowry
  • Ashli Maruster
  • Carolyn May
  • Dick & Kathy Miller
  • Susan Moore
  • Richard & Rick Oxley
  • Doug Perkins
  • Len & Nancy Powlick
  • Pam Raver
  • Eric Reiner
  • Ben Rich
  • Matt Rich
  • Robert Royse
  • Bruce Simpson
  • Doug & Deena Snapp
  • Gene Stauffer
  • Mark Steinmotz
  • Charlotte Thiebert
  • Rob Thorn (compiler).