Record-breaking Great Backyard Bird Count
The ninth annual Great Backyard Bird Count, which took place from 17-20 February, set new records as participation soared across the United States and Canada. From backyards to wildlife refuges, bird watchers tallied a record-breaking 623 bird species and 7.5 million individual birds during the four-day event, coordinated by Audubon (BirdLife in the US) and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Participants sent in more than 60,000 checklists, providing a wealth of information unmatched in previous years.
The flood of reports yielded what would have been otherwise impossible—a comprehensive snapshot of the continent’s birdlife. American Robins Turdus migratorius are typically reported in greatest number by observers in the balmy southern states, but they inundated the Northwest this year, including Washington State, where flocks of 40,000 or more were seen and totals skyrocketed to 96 percent above last year’s count. In contrast, tallies of robins were down to less than one-half of their 2005 numbers in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi for reasons that are as yet unclear.
Although most insect-loving birds travel south of the United States in winter, warm weather may also have enticed some swallow and warbler species to stay farther north than usual, living on a partly vegetarian diet. The number of bird watchers who reported Orange-crowned Warblers Vermivora celata rose by more than 50 percent compared with last year and they reported twice as many birds, some of which were eating suet and nectar from feeders. Tree Swallows Tachycineta bicolor, which can feed on bayberry berries during winter, have broadened their distribution from 11 states in 2001 to 20 states in 2006. Adjusted numbers were up by 134 percent compared with last year.
"With more people watching birds, together we discovered amazing things. In some places, observers described flocks of robins so large their combined calls were louder than jetliners, and good seed crops in northwest Canada caused several species of seedeaters to remain in sub-zero northern Canada rather than move to warmer areas further south." —Paul Green, Director of Citizen Science, Audubon
Complete tallies and maps are available at the Great Backyard Bird Count web site www.birdsource.org/gbbc, along with photos and narratives about other birds—including species in southern states hit by hurricanes, the stunning invasion of Snowy Owls Nyctea scandiaca in the Pacific Northwest, migratory pathways of Sandhill Cranes Grus canadensis, regional rarities such as a Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroica caerulescens in Connecticut, and continued drops in counts of American Crows Corvus brachyrhynchos, which have been plagued by West Nile virus.
The web site also announces winners of this year’s contests for localities with the highest participation, and features some of the more than 3,000 bird photos sent in for the photo contest. Next year’s Great Backyard Bird Count takes place from 16-19 February 2007.