Tales & Trends from the Columbus CBC, Part 1

Red-bellied Woodpecker Trend

When the dust settles on the CBC season, we compilers often asked to summarize the count numbers and give some perspective to them. I’ve helmed the Columbus CBC for 7 years now, and have watched as the circle has ‘filled in’ with development, restricting our open areas to parks, riparian strips, and golf courses. In some ways it’s sad (such as the stark decline of open-country birds), but in others it can be very interesting. Certainly, this new urban environment can be very rewarding for birds that can adapt to it.  I remember being surprised by the number of Cardinals on my first Columbus CBC.  Cardinals have long been practically a human companion bird, surviving well in our yards and parks, and this had a lot to do with their large numbers in suburban Columbus.  Now we have a chance to see which other birds are following down this path. Winter is the forge of new behaviors, such as adapting to human-modified habitats. Our CBC data suggest several species are getting good at living among us in wintertime; here are 3 of them that you probably have noticed.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers

Red-bellied Woodpecker Trend

– if you think more of them have been visiting your feeders of late, well, you’re probably right. We had a record count of them this year (164), but it’s the culmination of a steady rise over the last 10-15 years. The graph shows them by party-hour, which allows us to compare years when we had different turnout for the CBC, but it still shows the increase.  I was charmed that they were winter residents here in central Ohio when I first settled here 18 years ago, since my experience with them was as suburban birds in Florida. They seem to be making the same suburban adaptations here: patrolling feeders, nesting in yards and parks, and muscling in on the food sources of smaller woodpeckers and starlings.

Carolina Chickadees –

yes they’re already common, you say. If our CBC data is correct, however, they’re even more common than you think. We’ve had over 500 on many recent counts, and the birds/party hour level has been on a bouncy, but steady rise since the 1960s. This is almost certainly due to the rise in bird feeders. The first birds that show up at new feeders are often these dapper little birds, and most feeders develop a 4-8 bird clientele of chickadees. Their small winter flocks also probably provide the vigilance that helps to keep them safe from ambush by winter accipiters common in Columbus.

Carolina Chickadee Trend


White-throated Sparrows –

I thought they were always common, but that’s not the case presented by CBC data. In fact, now is their ‘golden years’, the result of their numbers showing a steady rise for many years. In fact, now we see flocks in suburban parks that formerly held few of them, so they seem to be moving into habitat that was only marginal for them in years past. They also have become feeder regulars for many people, and probably use feeders as an emergency food source when the ground gets covered in snow or ice. Contrast this to their close relative, White-crowned Sparrows. We’ve never had lots of them on the Columbus CBC, mostly because we have few places that had the open fields with shrub-lines that they favor, like you can find at Pickerington Ponds or the Darby plains.

Zonotrichia Trends