The 59th Ferrisburgh Christmas Bird Count took place on Saturday December 15th. It was a fine day for winter birding with temperatures in the mid-30s to mid-40s. The day was calm with most teams reporting little or no wind. The ground was bare and we saw no precipitation during the day. Forty-six participants broke into twelve teams and spent a cumulative 139 hours in the field while receiving assistance from an additional three feeder watchers. Six teams spent an additional 16 hours owling. As far as birding, overall the numbers were low but our species count was well above average. We found 86 species plus one count week, our highest species count since 2005; our 10-year average is 78. However, we counted only 15,477 birds (including one large flock of waterbirds of uncertain species – possibly cormorants) which is 30% below our 10-year average.

Birders discovered three species that hadn’t been seen on a Christmas count in the last ten years. There was a Wilson’s snipe from the territory on the east side of Otter Creek, our first since 2001. The New York team reported a winter wren, the first since 2004. There were two common grackles, one on the Buck Mtn. territory and one nicely photographed from the Dead Creek territory. We last had a grackle in 2007.

We had high counts for four species. Most unusual were the five turkey vultures, which tied the total number of turkey vultures seen on all previous counts, the last time being in 2008. Owlers found 20 eastern screech-owls, topping the record of 15 set in 2015 and tied last year. Increased numbers of this species represent increased effort at finding owls coupled with ideal overnight conditions for hearing them. The 135 Eastern bluebirds topped the record of 101 set in 2012. Our 49 red-bellied woodpeckers continued the trend of increasing numbers for this species, topping the record of 46 set just last year.

Five common species saw their lowest numbers in over a decade. The 11 snow buntings counted was the lowest total since only 1 was seen in 2006. Our 181 American goldfinches was the fewest since 2002 when only 115 were counted. The 323 American crows was the lowest total since 1999 when there were 280. The 14 bufflehead was the lowest since 13 were seen in 1989. And the big shocker was American tree sparrows where the total this year (89) was the lowest since 73 were recorded in 1966!

On the plus side, we had a small resurgence of winter finches. Teams found evening grosbeaks (last seen 2011), pine grosbeaks (last seen 2012), and common redpolls (last seen 2014). And the 44 pine siskins was the most seen since 2010.

Eighteen species were found by all of our field teams: red-tailed hawk, rock pigeon, mourning dove, downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, blue jay, common raven, American crow, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, American robin, Eastern bluebird, European starling, northern cardinal, dark-eyed junco, American goldfinch, and house sparrow.

Eighteen species, plus a count period bird, were found by only one group:

  • From Charlotte: red-necked grebe, snow goose, black scoter, lesser scaup, long-tailed duck, and a hermit thrush
  • From New York: ring-necked duck, ring-necked pheasant, winter wren and double-crested cormorant
  • From Dead Creek: Northern mockingbird
  • From Otter Creek East/Vergennes: wood duck, Northern goshawk, N. saw-whet owl, and Wilson’s snipe
  • From the Otter Creek West/Buck Mtn.: Merlin, American kestrel, and Evening grosbeak
  • Count period feeder bird: Eastern towhee Thank you to all the participants.

We look forward to heading out to the field again for next year’s count on Saturday December 14, 2019. Click here for the complete species list (minus one black scoter).

— Mike Winslow