The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Illinois

Illinois experienced a cold count season this year, with only eight counts reaching over 50 degrees, and nearly half failed to reach the freezing mark. Overall, 33.5 was the average high and 24 for the low, with almost no frozen water reported. There were 168 species recorded (same as last year), within the typical range of 165 to 170 seen from the prior seven years of statewide efforts. The top five counts in species reported were Rend Lake, leading the way with 103 species on Dec. 17, followed by Crab Orchard N.W.R. at 99, Carlyle Lake at 96, Arklands Pyramid at 94, and Jackson County with 92. Sixteen count reported species in the 80s. Forty-eight counts reported fewer than 79 species.

There were 69 counts that were reported this year with a total of 1208 field observers contributing 3551 hours, with 20,924.5 miles covered by car, foot, bike, or boat. There were more feeder observers than usual with an outstanding 201, and 189 nocturnal hours were logged. Lisle-Arboretum led the way with 92 observers, followed by Fermilab-Batavia with 85, and Evanston (North Shore) with 61. 

Ten bird species were present on all 69 reported circles include the following: American Goldfinch, American Crow, Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Dove, House Finch, House Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Mallard. The harbinger of spring the American Robin was present in all but one count circle. One third of the count circles reported more than 100 Robins with a high count of about 1200 birds. Twelve species were found in only one count circle, nine of these were single birds: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Forster’s Tern (12), Harlequin Duck, Lark Sparrow, Blue-winged Teal, Greater Prairie-Chicken (42), House Wren, Marsh Wren, Broad-winged Hawk, Great-tailed Grackle, Iceland Gull, and Monk Parakeet (5). The vagrants of note, once normal range is in consideration, include: Spotted Towhee, Harris’s Sparrow, Surf Scoter, Great-tailed Grackle, Rufous Hummingbird, and Prairie Falcon.


Four species of waterfowl ranked among the top 10 most numerous, with Canada Goose leading the way at 156,840. Snow Goose (102,001), Mallard (59,910), and Greater White-fronted Goose (34,854) also appeared on most counts, with concentrations of wintering geese in the southern region of the state. There has been an increase in Great Blue Herons reported, from eight circles on average throughout the 1970s to 60 circles in the 2020s. 

Harlequin Duck appeared on the count as it did last year, with a single bird found on Lake Michigan, as is the typical locale for this species. The reported numbers for White-winged Scoters were below average with only one sea duck spotted. Black Scoter was a count week bird and Surf Scoter appears on the count as well. Red-necked Grebe was back on the count list this season from the Decatur CBC; last time this species made the Illinois CBC summary was a sighting five years ago on the Rend Lake count.


Golden Eagle appeared on the count for the third consecutive year, this time in the Middle Fork River Valley and Pere Marquette State Park. Bald Eagle was found on every count in the state except for Chicago Lakefront, which has been typical. Forster’s Tern makes regular appearances on the count, particularly in the southern section of Illinois, with 12 birds identified at Rend Lake.

Downy Woodpecker (4873) narrowly topped Red-bellied Woodpecker (4811) as the most reported Woodpecker species. Southern Illinois remains an important part of the state for Red-headed Woodpeckers as 972 individuals were found across count circles. Pileated Woodpeckers had a great count year statewide with 478 individuals observed. In the 1980s Pileated Woodpecker reports averaged from 15 to 20 counts with about 200 individuals. Now in the 2020s the average is 58 counts reporting the species with individuals sometimes nearing 600.


Common Grackle (1,014,333), Red-winged Blackbird (262,028), and European Starling (129,161) represented the first, second- and fourth-most observed species (third was Canada Goose). It was a good year for unusual wrens, with a single Marsh Wren and a single Sedge Wren, which were also seen last season. New World Sparrows, including Chipping, Harris’s, LeConte’s, Lincoln’s, were all reported. 

Eastern Bluebirds have increased in presence with the number of count circles and number of birds counted. This is more than likely tied to the number of ongoing bluebird trail projects across every region of the state. In the 1980s 12 counts reported bluebirds with 35 birds. In the 2020s 60 circles reported with 90 individuals. Hermit Thrush is another thrush species with an expansion to report: eight circles on average 50 years ago to 60 circles this decade.

Wood warblers can be found regularly on Illinois Christmas Bird Counts, with species like Orange-crowned Warbler and Ovenbird joining the hardy Yellow-rumped Warbler. There were several misses including Pine and Nashville warblers that were both seen last season. Nashville Warblers have been sporadic with only one or two birds spotted since the 1970s. Pine Warblers similarly were sporadic with numbers mirroring Nashvilles from the 1970s through the 1990s. This century Pine Warblers have appeared in roughly three to seven circles with five to seven individuals generally reported. Finally, the most notable miss was Common Yellowthroat after being present for at least the past seven years of Illinois Christmas Bird Counts.

A total of 19 Common Redpolls appeared on four counts, ranging from Rutland in the northern part of the state to Peoria in central Illinois. Red Crossbills appear sporadically on Christmas Bird Counts in Illinois, and 2022-2023 proved to be a relatively scarce year, with 51 individuals found on three counts.

The decline of House Sparrow is worthy of discussion. The decline of individuals reported by decade is striking. On average during 1970s the number of House Sparrows seen on counts was 200,000; 1980s,150,000; 1990s, 40,000; 2000s, 38,000; 2010s, 30,000; and 2020s, 25,000.

Lastly, thank you to all the circle compilers who submitted count records, the bird-loving volunteers who count them during winter, and the three individuals that helped me draft this summary: Bob Dolgan, our Illinois Ornithological Society “Meadowlark Journal” Editor; Joe Gardner, volunteer for numerous CBCs across the state along with serving as the Sangamon County Spring Bird Count Compiler; and James A. Wheat the CBC Regional Editor for the state of Kentucky.