Happy New Year. Here is a summary of the results from the 55th Ferrisburgh Christmas Bird Count that took place on December 20, 2014. We had 47 field participants and 4 feeder watchers who spent a collective 150 ¼ hours counting birds in our area, with an additional 15 ¾ hours of owling effort. Weather for the count was seasonal with very little wind and no precipitation. Temperatures ranged from the low teens to high twenties through the day, and a base of about 3-8 inches of snow covered the area. The group found 82 species and one hybrid with one additional species found during the count period. The species total is just about the average for this area. There were a total of 13,751 birds counted, the fewest since 2006. We had no large flocks of waterfowl, field birds, or robins to up the numbers this year.

There were seven species I would include in the ‘rare’ category. species were seen for Rare Species. The rarest of them all was a juvenile red-headed woodpecker reported from the Fuller Mountain territory, the first since a count period bird in 1975. The Charlotte territory found our first rubycrowned kinglet since 2008. This species has appeared on only 15% of our counts. There were two snowy owls at Dead Creek, only the second time we have had more than one of these magnificent birds, three were found in 1991. Snowy owls appear on 24% of our counts, but an even rarer owl made an appearance this year, the northern saw-whet, in the Otter Creek east territory. This diminutive species has only been recorded on 16% of our counts and not since 2000.

Two unusual waterfowl made an appearance on the New York side of the count territory. One was our first pied-billed grebe since 2005; this species has appeared on 24% of our counts. The other was a drake gadwall. This species has been more common in recent years, appearing on six of the last ten counts, but historically they have only shown up on 20% of our counts. The rare species list is rounded out by two sparrows: our first savannah sparrows since 2008 from New York and our first white-crowned sparrow since 2007 from Button Bay. Savannah sparrows have appeared on 16% of our counts and white-crowneds on 22%. Also worth noting was the first report of a black duck/mallard hybrid from New York, the first such report since 1997.

Five species either set or tied records for most ever recorded. Our 13 Cooper’s hawks topped by one the record set in 2010. Our 19 great-horned owls tied the record from 2006. Northern cardinals seemed to be everywhere and the 280 observed topped the record of 246 set in 2007. Given the absence of fruit it was surprising to see so many Eastern blue-birds and the 124 found topped the record of 101 set just two years ago. Finally, red-bellied woodpeckers continue to expand their population and the 40 seen this year more than doubled the previous record also set two years ago. Other species appearing in large numbers included horned grebes (most since 1988), rock pigeons (most since 1983), mourning doves (most since 2005), and song sparrows (most since 1979!).

A few species came in with unusually low numbers, most of these perhaps associated with a sparse juniper berry crop. We had the fewest American robins since 2007, and the fewest cedar waxwings since 1973! There were two complete misses on species we usually get: no golden-crowned kinglets (first miss since 1981) and no purple finches (first miss since 1999). We also had the fewest ring-billed gulls since 2007, but I doubt that’s related to juniper berries.

Nineteen species were seen on only one territory. Eight of these were waterfowl: pied-billed grebe and gadwall from New York, red-throated loon, snow goose, greater scaup, and lesser scaup from Charlotte, and a ring-necked duck nicely photographed from the Little Otter Creek Wildlife Management Area. Two of our game birds were spotted on only one territory: ring-necked pheasant from New York and ruffed grouse from Charlotte. Three owl species were spotted on only one territory: short-eared from New York, snowy from Dead Creek, and northern saw-whet from Otter Creek West. Two woodpeckers made this list: yellow-bellied sapsucker from Charlotte and red-headed from Fuller Mountain.

Rounding out the list is ruby-crowned kinglet and common redpoll from Charlotte, white-crowned sparrow from Button Bay, and brown-headed cowbird from New York.

In a list that changes only a little from year to year, fourteen species were found on every territory: rock pigeon, mourning dove, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, blue jay, American crow, whitebreasted nuthatch, European starling, northern cardinal, dark-eyed junco, American tree sparrow, house finch, American goldfinch, and house sparrow.

Thank you all for your participation and I look forward to our 56th count next December.

– Mike Winslow