counting birds with cornell, 2016 edition

copyright Leslie Jones from the Boston Public Liubrary CollectionI’LL TELL YOU MINE, if you tell me yours–and then how about we all tell eBird.org (or join the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count)? I’ve been counting “backyard” birds as I do each winter, recording my data when anything unusual shows up, but lazily not posting my daily “regulars list” of about 18ish-to-20 species. Which looks something like this recently:

Garden visitors, average winter 2016 day:

  • 20 dark-eyed juncos
  • 10 goldfinches
  • 1 to 3 Northern cardinals
  • 5 white-throated sparrows
  • 3 American robins (up to 30 on warm, bright days)
  • 5 mourning doves (up to 20 on warm, bright days)
  • 5 blue jays (ebbs and flows between several and 15ish birds)
  • 3 tufted titmice
  • 7 black-capped chickadees
  • 2 white-breasted nuthatches
  • 1 red-breasted nuthatch (began appearing in January daily)
  • 2 pileated woodpeckers
  • 1 Northern flicker (began reappearing in January)
  • 1 red-bellied woodpecker
  • 2 downy woodpeckers
  • 2 hairy woodpeckers
  • 1 yellow-bellied sapsucker

Occasional sightings

  • brown creeper (in other years, seen daily)
  • hermit thrush, January 22 (note: an unusual winter resident here; two were in the garden daily into almost November, long after I’d have expected them to migrate)
  • barred owl, heard periodically
  • a couple of cedar waxwings on the last day of January (usually wandering flocks visit every so often through winter, but no big groups…yet)

5926271345_e35c556884_zLate December 2015:

  • add 2 house finches
  • add flock of American crows (doing a daily early morning meetup in the tall trees at the garden’s edge, then a raucous flyover)

And two weeks before that:

  • add 1 ruffed grouse
  • add 3 stray purple finches
  • add 1 persistent red-tailed hawk (hoping to snack on smaller birds, though I am suggesting rodents, instead)

Species missing so far, that I can usually count on in a given winter:

  • a wren or two (winter wren and Carolina wren)
  • Eastern bluebird
  • Cooper’s hawk (seen nearby, but not in the garden proper so far)
  • Sharp-shinned hawk (seen nearby, but not in the garden proper so far)
  • the occasional starling
  • no turkeys have floated in over the fence this winter so far, though I hear the occasional beating of wings that is a group taking flight from their roosts

If I feel the need to see starlings, I need only walk to the extensive dairy-farm fields just down the road, where there are also often even flocks of sea gulls despite the inland position. On days when stored-up slurry of waste from the herd is spread on the frozen fields, loaded with bits of undigested grain I expect, so many crows descend that I cannot even guess the count–but it’s a fantastic sight.

Birds I wish would visit this winter, as they do every couple or few, but apparently not this time:

  • pine siskin
  • common redpoll

Only one year in 30ish here did I have a visit from the winter finches called pine grosbeaks. But a girl can live in hope–and I do, that those gregarious, beautiful birds will stop in sometime again.

Let me know who you’re keeping company with this winter, please–and do use the links below to join eBird and the Great Backyard Bird Count.

do you eBird? sign up now

ebird logoTHE ONLINE bird-counting application called eBird, a project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology, celebrated its 10th year in 2015. Unlike well-known counts such as Great Backyard Bird Count and Project Feederwatch (more on them below), which have specific start and end dates each year, eBird is a lifetime tool, for use anytime, whether at home or elsewhere. Maybe make joining eBird a slightly belated New Year’s resolution?

I like eBird’s new-in-2014 “Location Explorer,” a dashboard allowing you to zoom in on who’s seen what in a particular area of interest—as useful for seeing what other species are around where you live as it is for planning a birding trip to some exotic distant place.

Within it I can drill down to the “hotspots map” (then either zoom in or enter the desired place in “location” at the top right) and see how many species have been recorded in my vicinity. For instance, in the public land surrounding my place (the Taconic State Park—Copake Falls Area; Columbia County, New York), there are 97 species recorded from 12 checklists. I also regularly zoom in on data for adjacent Berkshire County, MA, where there are far more birders just across the state line–and a whopping 288 species submitted in more than 21,000 checklists). What’s exciting: Most are birds I have never seen–but might someday, without going too far afield.

When I see an unusual bird, like the hermit thrush I sighted through the start of November last year and again in January (a bird that typically migrates away from here for winter), I always look at adjacent areas on eBird to see if anyone else saw the same species. Indeed, Indeed, there was data on hermit thrushes in two other spots within an hour of me, around the same time period.

That’s why it’s important that we participate, so a fuller picture can be had by researchers than they could gather on their own. As in: Do you see what I see? Probably not. Off I go to transfer the numbers on my pad of paper into my eBird account.

  • eBird: Sign up here and use the online checklist anytime (which helps by suggesting possible birds in your area).
  • GBBC: Sign up for the next Great Backyard Bird Count, February 12-15, 2016 (a joint project of Cornell, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada, and powered by the eBird technology).
  • Project Feederwatch: Or you can still join Project Feederwatch (from Cornell and Birds Studies Canada), which runs November into April and as it sounds is about recording birds in your backyard in feeder season, at the feeders themselves or in your garden plantings or using its water features—counting birds using something you provided.

5926262769_9e6d53e5b2_z(Photos up top and just above by Leslie Jones (1886-1967), from the Boston Public Library Collection. More on “the camera man,” as Jones, a longtime Boston newspaper photographer, called himself, in this story, or in the BPL’s Flickr archive of his work.)

Categoriesbird sh-t
  1. Angelika says:

    The birdwatch sounds like something I’d like to get involved in. One problem: I don’t know bird ID. I do know blue jays, dives, seagulls, cardinals, but that’s it! How do you know the names of the birds that you see? They have no labels on their wings!

  2. Nora says:

    Black-capped chickadees, pileated woodpeckers, and a nesting pair of red-tailed hawks. Come spring, we’ll have cardinals, titmice, and nuthatches galore.

  3. Jane says:

    Cardinals,blue jays,chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatch,red-breasted woodpecker, downy woodpeckers, flicker, Carolina wren, house sparrows, goldfinches, mourning doves, redpolls, mockingbird, red-winged blackbirds, starlings and a sharp-shinned hawk. Also at least one other sparrow. I’m not sure if it’s the white-throated or not, yet.

    I haven’t seen any juncos, though we’ve sure had the snow.

  4. Steve says:

    Nice list of birds! I started using eBird to list my yard birds last year. I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count for the first time last year as well. It’s definitely fun and informative.
    Out here in northwest Washington State we have 4 or 5 Anna’s Hummingbirds, 1 Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flickers, Steller’s Jays, Crows, an occasional Raven, Eurasian-collared Doves, Black-capped Chickadees, Bushtits, Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrows, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Red-winged Blackbirds, House Finch, Purple Finch, couple of Pine Siskins, House Sparrows, Starlings, off and on 1 Orange-crowned Warbler, Bewick’s Wren, both a Cooper’s Hawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk usually make a run by the feeders, Northern Harrier flies by, a Red-tailed Hawk or 2 will soar over or perch in a tree, Bald Eagles most days, there are 2 Great Blue Herons that land in the field to forage (they only do it in the winter), Trumpeter Swans fly over fairly low in small flocks, Snow Geese fly high overhead in large flocks. When I’m really lucky I get to see a Peregrine Falcon or Merlin dash by. Watching and photographing the birds on the farm is a great pleasure.

  5. Chris Altwegg says:

    In answer to the earlier post on how to identify birds, Cornell Lab has a great FREE app for iPhone and Android devices called Merlin. It includes 400 of the more commonly found birds with a simple “wizard” that helps you narrow done what you saw with what it might be.

  6. Lorie says:

    I’ve been counting for Feederwatch here in eastern NE for many years and it’s very rewarding. Some late afternoons, I will have 20 cardinals arrive. This winter I’ve been blessed with 3 pilieated woodpeckers…a male and two females. They are very rare this far west. The male is attracted to suet cakes in a flythrough and is brave enough to come to a peanut feeder hanging right in front of a window…what a thrill that is! The females are not so brave but they “play” in the snow, poking their heads deep into the drifts.

  7. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    Hairy woodpeckers, mourning doves, rose breasted nuthatch, regular nuthatch, tufted titmouse, robins, juncos, cardinals, house finches, sparrows, blue jays, chickadees, mockingbirds, crows, red tailed hawk, sharp shinned hawk, something smaller than those, maybe a falcon, Canada geese flying by in extended “V”s, and repeated flocks of undulating starlings who are feasting on the huge crop of bean pods in the Sophora japonica, Japanese Pagoda Tree. Hoping to see a big bunch of cedar waxwings doing the same thing soon.

  8. Joeth Barlas says:

    When I first moved to a Biston suburb just outside route 128, I had grosbeaks of several sorts regularly and thought they were “common as chickadees.” Sadly, I haven’t seen them for 20 years now…

  9. Virginia says:

    Here in Winchester, TN, Cardinals (many), Mourning Doves, Goldfinches (many), House Finches, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Starling (esp with snow), Rufous-sided Towhees, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Blue Jays, Purple Finches, White Throated Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, (no Winter Wrens yet), English Sparrows, Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Slate Colored Juncos, Grackle, Brown Headed Cowbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows, and American Crow. Overhead – Black Vultures, Red Tail Hawk, and Sand Hill Crane.

    1. margaret says:

      Good question, Sharon. Each time you go to share data, the eBird application asks you to say where you were, for how long you watched, and whether you just happened to see a bird accidentally or were actually birding (and whether you were alone or with how many others birding). Other “counts” like GBBC have different guidelines — theirs says, “Simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count.” You can count for longer, and on just one of the four days, or all day each day — but a “count” for them must be at least 15 minutes.

      I keep a pad and an extra wall calendar on my desk and always note anybody unusual (or extra-large groups of usual birds) and make notes to myself, then put them in eBird.

  10. Julie says:

    In my Kansas City area garden i have much the same regulars you do, with the exception of pileated woodpeckers (although they do occur in the area), red breasted nuthatches (here some years, but not seen for a few years). Have the occasional wren, lots of house finches. Most exciting sighting has been the painted bunting, though not in a few years and not this time of year anyway. Have participated in GBYBC for quite a few years, but not ebird yet. I consider myself a casual birder, and have several feeders hung where they can be seen from the kitchen window and breakfast nook.

  11. Anne Wagner says:

    I’ve been participating in Project Feederwatch – also out of Cornell – for about 10 years. For a couple of hours two days a week between November and April, I count birds at my feeder station and submit the counts to the project. It’s a fun way to participate in citizen science. Cornell is great at helping you get set up and know what to look for and how to count. Info at feederwatch.org.

    I’ll be doing the GBBC too – I enjoy that it includes more than just feeder birds – ducks and heron on the pond will count, too and the great horned owl.

  12. Joan Gillespie says:

    It’s funny how you don’t think about how many birds you see in the winter until you want to count them. Thanks for the challenge.

  13. Donna Lane says:

    I heard a thud on the front landing 2 days ago and went to the window to see what was going on. I counted at least 30 robins darting in and out of my Ilex crenata, feasting on the black berries. (One had knocked over the plastic watering can I had left on the table.) One sat on the Christmas wreath, which is still hanging on the front door, pecking at the winterberries woven through the wreath. Another claimed the large mixed container planting, devouring its red berries. It was difficult trying to count the number of robins. They looked fatter than they look in the early spring. I watched them for about 15 minutes. What a hoot!

    While on the phone this afternoon, I saw a couple of blue jays and a male and female cardinal. They didn’t stay long. Just long enough to say Happy Valentine’s Day!

    1. margaret says:

      How nice Donna, that you got treated to these shows! I am constantly fascinated at what all the birds are up to here, too. Thanks for saying hello.

    1. margaret says:

      I love it, Sharon! The ones here thing my house is a tree trunk, I guess, and over and over through the winter each day take seed from the feeder and stuff it in the cracks around windows or between rows of siding, to “cache” it for later use. Hilarious.

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