The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Alabama and Mississippi

The trend of decreasing numbers of ducks, sparrows, and some other passerines continued in both Alabama and Mississippi, but there were changes in distributional patterns. Most circles had reduced numbers of birds overall, despite regular participation. Almost every count had several of the lowest totals (other than zero) for a species ever, and 28 species were missed entirely on one or more circles that almost invariably record them.


This winter Alabama conducted the same 13 counts as the previous year, and Mississippi conducted 17. In Mississippi, the Corinth CBC no longer exists, and neither the Tupelo CBC nor the Eagle Lake CBC were run. Eleven counts recorded more than 100 species led by South Hancock County with 141, Gulf Shores with 135, Jackson with 133, and Eufaula N.W.R. with 132. The others at 100 or more were Dauphin Island (124), Wheeler N.W.R. (115), Jackson County (MS) (114), Washington County (107), Wheeler Dam (107), Noxubee N.W.R. (103), and Hattiesburg (101).


Noxubee N.W.R. had the only Mississippi Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (count week), its first for the CBC; in Alabama, Gulf Shores hit a new maximum with 300, and Eufaula recorded 108. Washington County (south) found the region’s only two Cackling Geese. They have been recorded in small numbers in Mississippi on most CBCs since count 105, although Alabama has had them only three times. Snow Geese were well distributed across the region, but Eufaula N.W.R., which usually gets them, had none. The 125 Ross’s Geese in Washington County (south), three at Arkabutla Lake, and 11 in Wheeler N.W.R. were expected, and there was also one in Montgomery (seventh on a CBC). The region’s only Tundra Swans were four at Guntersville, the first for the circle. Wood Ducks were widely recorded, but Jackson County (MS) atypically missed them.


Gadwalls in Alabama again were not found south of Montgomery and Eufaula N.W.R., but they were not as concentrated at Wheeler N.W.R. as last year, and northern Waterloo missed them. In Mississippi, Jackson recorded an all-time low of two Gadwalls. Alabama’s American Wigeons were also again mostly at Wheeler N.W.R., which recorded 2504; Eufaula N.W.R. had 124, Montgomery six, Wheeler Dam two and Guntersville one. Mississippi had wigeons on five counts and one count week bird, but a very low statewide total of 55, 45 of which were in Washington County (south), and historic lows at both Sidon (one) and Noxubee N.W.R. (one); Southern Hancock County missed the species. The only American Black Ducks were 10 at Wheeler N.W.R., two at Eufaula N.W.R., three in Hattiesburg, and one in Washington County (south). Most of the region’s Mallards were at Washington County (south) (20,518) and Wheeler N.W.R. (5285), and four different circles recorded historically low numbers: Auburn (one), Tuscaloosa (2), Waterloo (3), and Sardis Lake (16). Alabama’s only four Mottled Ducks were on Dauphin Island, and Mississippi counts found 11 in Jackson County (MS) and four in Southern Hancock County. Jackson County (MS) has recorded Blue-winged Teal each of its 46 years with numbers as high as 509 and averaging approximately 70; for the first time, this season it had but one. As happened last year, two Northern Shovelers were in south Alabama (this year at Fort Morgan), but the vast majority were at Wheeler N.W.R. (509) and then Eufaula N.W.R. (66), Wheeler Dam (44), and Guntersville (32); Waterloo, which usually records them, missed them again. Mississippi’s shovelers were more widespread, but a circle that usually records them (Jackson) missed them this season, while Hattiesburg had an all-time high of 4363. Wheeler N.W.R. also had most of Alabama’s Northern Pintails (2058), with the others at Wheeler Dam (7) and Eufaula N.W.R. (6); Mississippi had pintails on five counts but three had historic low numbers (Sidon, Washington County [south] and Moon Lake [Lula]), and the overall total was only 17. Alabama’s 152 (compared to 503 last year) Canvasbacks were almost all up north both in Alabama with 145 at Guntersville, four at Waterloo, and two at Wheeler N.W.R., and only a single one at Gulf Shores, but in central Mississippi, Canvasbacks were mainly in the central portion of the region with 134 at Jackson, 10 at Sidon, two at Southern Hancock County, one at Moon Lake (Lula), one in Jackson County (MS), and a count week bird in Natchez; Birmingham and Eufaula N.W.R., which usually record them, had no Canvasbacks. Unlike last year, this season’s distribution for Redheads was strikingly different from that for Canvasbacks with 221 Redheads at Gulf Shores, only 37 at Wheeler N.W.R., 23 at Guntersville, 21 at Eufaula N.W.R., and four at Montgomery; no Mississippi count recorded more than the 10 found in Sidon. Counts across Alabama and Mississippi recorded Ring-necked Ducks, but Jackson County (MS) and Waterloo missed them, and Tuscaloosa had an all-time-low total of three. Lesser Scaup showed a little more of a northern emphasis than Ring-necks, but they were found across the region with an all-time low of 25 at Sidon and misses by Birmingham, Fort Morgan, and Waterloo. The 76 Greater Scaup exceeded last season’s 20, but all but two were in Alabama; there were 40 at Gulf Shores, 27 at Guntersville, six at Wheeler Dam and one in Eufaula N.W.R., compared to just one in Arkabutla Lake, one in Noxubee N.W.R., and count week for Jackson.


Wheeler Dam had seven Surf Scoters, Gulf Shores three, Grenada four and Southern Hancock one. Dauphin Island recorded 62 Black Scoters, Fort Morgan one, and Southern Hancock County four. The only White-winged Scoters were two at Wheeler Dam. Grenada tallied the only Long-tailed Duck, but only as a count week bird. Buffleheads were fairly spread out across circles in both Alabama and Mississippi this year, but Eufaula N.W.R. atypically missed the species. In Alabama, 170 of the 173 Common Goldeneyes were far north with 67 at Guntersville, 58 at Wheeler Dam, 39 at Waterloo, and six at Wheeler N.W.R., with two of the others at Fort Morgan and one on Dauphin Island. Hooded Mergansers were again recorded across the region, but the only Alabama count with more than 100 was Wheeler N.W.R. with 334; they were typically distributed except for none in Moon Lake (Lula) and all-time low counts for Auburn (19) and Waterloo (3). The only Common Merganser was at Wheeler Dam, its first ever. Red-breasted Mergansers were unusually absent in Eufaula N.W.R., Fort Morgan (which had never missed the species before and had recorded up to 565, though recently as few as 2) and Waterloo. Waterloo atypically missed Ruddy Duck, Guntersville had an all-time low 43, Jackson had a low 83 Ruddy Ducks, and Jackson County (MS) tied its low with only one, but the 9055 Ruddies tallied on Washington County (south) marked the third highest number ever and the most in more than thirty years.


Eufaula N.W.R. reported Alabama’s only eight Northern Bobwhites, but 31 were found in Mississippi: Jackson County (MS) (13), Brooklyn-Camp Shelby (12), Sardis Lake (6), and Southern Hancock County (cw); two fairly reliable circles for bobwhites, Noxubee N.W.R. and Lauderdale County, missed them. Although Mississippi had only six Wild Turkeys last season, four counts in the state recorded them this season led by Strawberry Plains (135, a circle high), then 25 (tying the high) in Dahomey-Great River, 13 in Brooklyn-Camp Shelby, and three at Arkabutla Lake; two circles that usually record them did not, however: Lauderdale County and Noxubee N.W.R. Alabama, which had 93 Wild Turkeys last season, recorded 164 this year led by Guntersville (120, a circle high), with 16 at Waterloo, 14 at Birmingham, nine at Tuscaloosa, four at Wheeler Dam, and a single at Wheeler N.W.R.


Fort Morgan recorded an all-time low of four Common Loons. Both Eufaula N.W.R. (2) and Guntersville (one) had Pacific Loons. Auburn had its lowest count for Pied-billed Grebe: five. The region’s only Eared Grebe was in Jackson. Fort Morgan almost always records Northern Gannets but failed to do so this year. Jackson County (MS) had the sole Magnificent Frigatebird. All 74 Neotropic Cormorants were found in Washington County (south), where they provided a first for the count. The only American Bittern for the region was a count week bird in Gulf Shores. Auburn (7), Wheeler (38), and Brooklyn-Camp Shelby (one) had all-time lows for Great Blue Heron. A “Great White Heron” was the first for Gulf Shores and only the third record for the region’s CBCs. Tricolored Herons were at Dauphin Island (one), Jackson County (MS) (6), and Southern Hancock County (13). The only Reddish Egrets were five on Dauphin Island and three in Southern Hancock County. The region rarely records any Plegadis ibis on CBCs; this year they were found for the first time in Southern Hancock County (16) and Gulf Shores (one). At Arkabutla Lake, two Northern Harriers established an all-time low. Both Auburn and Montgomery atypically missed Sharp-shinned Hawks and Gulf Shores had a lowest-ever count of one. Jackson County (MS) missed Red-shouldered Hawk, and Lauderdale County had its lowest count (10). Gulf Shores set a record low with 10 Red-tailed Hawks.


Tuscaloosa failed to record any American Coots. A very rare Yellow Rail was in Jackson County. A Limpkin appeared in the region for the first time, but only during count week at Noxubee N.W.R. The only American Avocets were two at Southern Hancock County (second record) and one count week at Sidon. Dauphin Island has recorded American Oystercatchers on each of the 40 CBCs it has conducted with numbers as high as 66; for the third time in the last four years, it had only one this count. The only other oystercatchers in the region were eight in Jackson County. The only Piping Plovers were eight on Dauphin Island; Southern Hancock County, which regularly records them, failed to find any. Both Dauphin Island and Southern Hancock County missed Least Sandpipers. Southern Hancock County recorded both the region’s only Marbled Godwit, its seventh, and the only Long-billed Curlew, its first. Both Auburn and Waterloo had all-time low Wilson’s Snipe counts, each with one. Noxubee N.W.R. missed American Woodcock. Southern Mississippi had all-time low Dunlin counts with two in Jackson County (MS) and 27 in Southern Hancock County. Wheeler N.W.R. has recorded Bonaparte’s Gulls on 43 of its 53 counts, with numbers up to 1424, but it had only one this season. Waterloo had its lowest Ring-billed Gull tally with 21. Fort Morgan (10) and Waterloo (one) had their lowest Herring Gull numbers. Lesser Black-backed Gulls continue their expansion; Gulf Shores found two, Wheeler Dam two, Sardis one, Southern Hancock one, and Jackson had one count week. The only Great Black-backed Gulls were one each for Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan. Lauderdale County failed to record any Forster’s Terns. Dauphin Island found only a single Caspian Tern, its lowest number. The only Black Skimmers were 37 at Southern Hancock County.


Auburn had only a single Eurasian Collared-Dove after 64, 26, 5, and 34 in the past four years. Fort Morgan had a single Inca Dove, and Gulf Shores recorded four (a high for the count and tying the record for an Alabama CBC); Natchez also had four. Common Ground Doves occurred at Gulf Shores (11), Eufaula (7) and Brooklyn-Camp Shelby (3). Southern Hancock County unusually failed to record an Eastern Screech-Owl. Both Southern Hancock County and Guntersville missed Barred Owl. Short-eared Owls were found at Wheeler N.W.R. (one, the eighth record), Arkabutla Lake (4, tenth), and Grenada (one, thirteenth). The only Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were one at Jackson County (MS) and one count week at Fort Morgan. Jackson County (MS) recorded the only Black-chinned Hummingbird. Fort Morgan and Gulf Shores had single Rufous Hummingbirds, and Southern Hancock County had a Rufous/Allen’s. Both Lauderdale County (3) and Cullman (6) had their lowest counts for Downy Woodpecker. Guntersville had only one Hairy Woodpecker. Cullman missed Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Southern Hancock County missed Red-headed Woodpecker. The only six Red-cockaded Woodpeckers were at Noxubee N.W.R. where they are dependable. Lauderdale County had its lowest Northern Flicker Count (11). Birmingham had only a single Pileated Woodpecker.


A well-documented Least Flycatcher at Southern Hancock provided the third record for the region, all from Mississippi. The Say’s Phoebe found last year at Dahomey-Great River returned for this count. Vermilion Flycatchers appeared at Dauphin Island (one); Jackson County (MS) (2), and Southern Hancock County (2). Western Kingbirds were rather widespread with six at Fort Morgan (highest ever), two on Dauphin Island, one each at Gulf Shores, Natchez, and Southern Hancock. Gulf Shores had its lowest-ever count for both White-eyed Vireo (one) and Blue-headed Vireo (one). Hattiesburg recorded more Blue-headed Vireos than ever before (13). Auburn, Cullman, and Guntersville each had only one Loggerhead Shrike, and Wheeler N.W.R. missed the species. Sardis Lake (27) and Lauderdale County (86) had their lowest Blue Jay counts ever, and Strawberry Plains did not record any. Fish Crows were particularly scarce in southern Alabama, where Fort Morgan had its lowest non-zero count (5), and Dauphin Island had none.


The fewest Carolina Chickadees ever were recorded in Grenada (19), Lauderdale County (37), and Guntersville (55). Guntersville also tallied its fewest Tufted Titmice (63) and Winter Wrens (6). Arkabutla Lake set a record low for Carolina Wrens (21). Ruby-crowned Kinglets were at lowest-ever levels in Lauderdale County (5), where they have been recorded every year with up to 79; Dahomey-Great River (4), where they have been recorded every year with up to 45; and Moon Lake (Lula) (one), where they have been recorded 73 years out of 75 with up to 36. Moon Lake (Lula) missed Hermit Thrush, which it had recorded 64 of the previous 74 counts; and Gulf Shores, which has never missed Hermit Thrush and has tallied as many as 87, had an all-time low count of two. Four circles found their smallest numbers of American Robin: Sardis Lake (3); Dauphin Island (21); Noxubee N.W.R. (39); and Cullman (63). Sidon (5) and Lauderdale County (83) had their lowest tallies of Eastern Bluebirds. Dahomey-Great River missed Brown Thrasher, and Lauderdale County (2) and Cullman (3) had their smallest numbers. Hattiesburg had an all-time high of 118 Northern Mockingbirds. European Starlings established all-time CBC lows for Sardis Lake (4), Grenada (6), Sidon (17), and Guntersville (416). In Sidon, three Horned Larks marked its lowest number, as did 75 in Dahomey-Great River. Lauderdale County found only eight Cedar Waxwings, its fewest. Southern Hancock County atypically found no American Pipits.


Record low numbers of Eastern Towhees were in Cullman (10) and Gulf Shores (12). Dahomey-Great River missed Chipping Sparrow, and Lauderdale County and Vicksburg set record lows with five each. Southern Hancock County failed to record any Field Sparrows, and Jackson County (MS) had only one. Auburn set a low with four Savannah Sparrows. Southern Hancock County also missed Vesper Sparrow, and Gulf Shores and Montgomery each recorded only one. Cullman (18) and Guntersville (39) reported record low numbers of Song Sparrows. The region’s only Lincoln’s Sparrow was in Gulf Shores. Sidon tallied only a single Swamp Sparrow, and Cullman also had its lowest number, 32. Grenada had just one Fox Sparrow. Bachman’s Sparrows are usually hard to find in winter. Eufaula N.W.R. found two (its first record), as did Brooklyn-Camp Shelby (its third). Record low numbers of White-throated Sparrows were found in Gulf Shores (6), Jackson County (8), and Cullman (32). Washington County (south) missed White-crowned Sparrow, and Arkabutla Lake and Dahomey-Great River had record lows with two and three, respectively. Brooklyn-Camp Shelby had the region’s lone Grasshopper Sparrow (its fifth). Jackson County found 30 of Mississippi’s 31 Henslow’s Sparrows, Hattiesburg had one, and Dauphin Island recorded Alabama’s only one (its seventh). All the LeConte’s Sparrows were in Mississippi; Washington County (south) led with seven; Jackson County had three; Grenada, two; and Hattiesburg, one. Dauphin Island found 10 Nelson’s Sparrows and Southern Hancock one, the only ones for the region. Jackson County (MS) missed Seaside Sparrow.


The second most surprising warbler was a single Northern Waterthrush at Eufaula N.W.R., its fourth record and the fifth record for Alabama and seventh for the region. Washington County (south) missed Orange-crowned Warbler. Black-and-white Warblers were found in Auburn (one), Eufaula (2), and Hattiesburg (2). Washington County failed to record any Pine Warblers, while Fort Morgan and Lauderdale County set lows with two and 21. Hattiesburg had a well-documented two Yellow Warblers, the seventh CBC record for Mississippi and for the region, and the first time with more than one. Washington County (south) missed Common Yellowthroat.


Gulf Shores found the only Bullock’s Oriole, its fourth CBC record, all at feeders. There are five records for Alabama and nine for the region. Gulf Shores also had Alabama’s only two Baltimore Orioles; one was also in Natchez, and one was a count week bird for Jackson (MS). Lauderdale County had only a single Eastern Meadowlark, and Dahomey-Great River also had its lowest number, 36. Montgomery’s only Rusty Blackbird was count week. Dahomey-Great River missed Brewer’s Blackbird. For the second straight year, Gulf Shores recorded the only Bronzed Cowbird, one visiting a feeder where two appeared last year, and one or two have shown up during much of the year. Shiny Cowbirds are almost never found in the region in the winter. This year, one visited a feeder in Gulf Shores. It was one of a group of birds that appeared in that yard between at least early October and late March. Lauderdale County totally dipped on Common Grackle, and Sardis Lake (3) and Dahomey-Great River (44) had record low numbers. Arkabutla Lake recorded an all-time low of 30 Northern Cardinals, and Cullman an all-time low of 59. The region had only a single Painted Bunting, a bird coming to a feeder in Gulf Shores. For Cullman, three American Goldfinches set a new low, as did 12 in Lauderdale County and 44 in Guntersville. Pine Siskins vary considerably from year to year; they were few and far between this year. Mississippi’s only siskin was found in Jackson (MS), and Alabama had singles at Tuscaloosa and Waterloo and a count week bird at Cullman. Waterloo failed to find a single House Sparrow, and Guntersville set a low with 36.