Thursday, March 01, 2007

Wrapping Up the Great Backyard Bird Count

The public reporting period for the Great Backyard Bird Count is now over. Some totals may change in the next few weeks as reviewers finish editing the results and as reports are solicited for missing species. However, the numbers are not likely to change greatly at this point. So let's take a look at this year's local results.

First, here is the list of species reported for the District of Columbia.

SpeciesBirds Checklists
Canada Goose 1,642 7
Wood Duck 61 3
American Black Duck 3 1
Mallard 492 12
Redhead 4 1
Lesser Scaup 12 1
Hooded Merganser 12 1
Red-breasted Merganser 1 1
Great Blue Heron 8 2
Turkey Vulture 3 3
Bald Eagle 1 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 2 1
Cooper's Hawk 10 8
Red-shouldered Hawk 2 2
Red-tailed Hawk 6 4
American Kestrel 4 3
Merlin 3 3
American Coot 6 1
Bonaparte's Gull 4 2
Ring-billed Gull 630 19
Herring Gull 296 2
Great Black-backed Gull 90 1
Rock Pigeon 480 13
Mourning Dove 137 36
Eastern Screech-Owl 1 1
Belted Kingfisher 43
Red-bellied Woodpecker 32 18
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 4 4
Downy Woodpecker 47 27
Hairy Woodpecker 6 6
Northern Flicker 14 5
Pileated Woodpecker 7 4
Blue Jay 75 17
American Crow 133 16
Fish Crow 28 4
Carolina Chickadee 52 18
Tufted Titmouse 53 16
White-breasted Nuthatch 49 20
Brown Creeper 5 3
Carolina Wren 56 27
Winter Wren 1 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 3 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3 2
Eastern Bluebird 19 2
Hermit Thrush 4 3
American Robin 951 18
Northern Mockingbird 49 22
Brown Thrasher 5 3
European Starling 981 35
Cedar Waxwing 18 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 6 1
Eastern Towhee 18 5
American Tree Sparrow 19 4
Field Sparrow 13 3
Fox Sparrow 2 2
Song Sparrow 65 20
Swamp Sparrow 2 1
White-throated Sparrow 304 29
White-crowned Sparrow 3 1
Dark-eyed Junco 259 27
Northern Cardinal 158 32
Common Grackle 2 1
Purple Finch 3 1
House Finch 52 13
American Goldfinch 51 12
House Sparrow 1,067 42

There are not many surprises in that list. Redheads are fairly unusual for D.C., though a few show up every winter, usually on one of the reservoirs. These appeared in the Constitution Gardens pond, and apparently they were still there as of this afternoon. Merlins spend the winter on the Hains Point golf course, and sometimes appear elsewhere in the city as they forage. Eastern Screech Owl was a nice find for one observer; it was our only owl reported this year. I myself have only ever seen one American Tree Sparrow in D.C.; these birds most likely appeared at a backyard feeder. Fox Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Purple Finches are are in about the numbers I would expect for this city.

This year does present some possible undercounts. First off, many waterbird species are entirely missing as a result of normally open water being frozen over. Thus, no loons or grebes of any species, no Common Mergansers, no Ring-necked Ducks, and no Buffleheads. Lesser Scaup numbers are notably low for February. Aside from the waterbirds being frozen out, there are a few other oddities. No Eastern Phoebes were reported, for the first weekend this year. The proportion of American to Fish Crows seems to me to be a little off; from my experience the relative populations are closer to even. It is possible that inexperienced birders assume American as the default. Blackbirds of all species were notable for their absence; two Common Grackles represented the whole of the icterid clan.

In sum, birders reported a total of 66 species in D.C. via 64 checklists, breaking the previous records of 59 and 51, respectively. The total number of birds also set a new record, which had been 5,162. All three previous records had been set in 2005. The high level of participation was especially encouraging in the light of the adverse conditions during that weekend. Below is the participation map for this year's GBBC.

Reporting locations were distributed fairly evenly around the District, but it is unfortunate that we did not get any reports from east of the Anacostia. I had planned to visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens or Anacostia Park myself, but I was a bit scared off by the icy conditions. (I was worried less about the parks than about conditions on the sidewalks and bridges I use to reach the parks.)

One thing that becomes apparent when you compare the results from D.C. from one year to the next is that participation levels vary greatly. In some years - like this year - there have been many checklists submitted and many species reported. In other years, participation has been very low. In one year, the total count of individual birds was under 200! The more birders participate, the more useful the results are likely to be.

You can explore the results from the GBBC further by visiting the project's website.

I reported on my own participation in the count here, here, here, and here.