The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Kentucky

Forty Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) were conducted this year in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, including a new CBC in Willisburg. A total of 138 species was recorded; two more than last year, though one is a yellowlegs that could not be identified to species. The highlight bird was a Kentucky first record, first seen in Shelby County, but later moved east during the count period: Pink-footed Goose on the Lexington CBC. Prior to that, the bird was present for some time, affording many birders the chance to enjoy its presence. There were six additional species seen during Count Week: Trumpeter Swan at Lincoln’s Birthplace; Surf Scoter and Black Scoter at Louisville; Gray Catbird at Glasgow; and Lincoln’s Sparrow and Common Yellowthroat at Louisville. The total number of individuals counted was 344,750. The top species count for this CBC season was Allen County East with 96 species; Louisville was next with 94 species. Six count circles reported between 81 and 89 species, eleven observed between 70 and 79 species, and the remaining 21 counted between 40 and 69 species.

Weather was a bit colder this CBC season in Kentucky, compared to recent years. The lows ranged from 1°F to 56°F, with 25 CBCs reporting low temperatures at or below freezing. The high temperatures ranged from 20°F to 67°F. Both the high and low ranges are fairly well below last year’s temperatures. All-day or most-day cloudy weather predominated the count period (26 counts). Much less precipitation was reported this year (8 counts), compared with last year (22 counts). Of these eight counts, three reported light rain, one of which was all-day rainfall. One CBC reported heavy rain in the afternoon. Light snow was reported on five counts, one of which reported all-day flurries. Rivers and creeks were flowing without ice, except five CBCs reporting some freezing at the edges. Lakes and ponds were mostly open, with ten reporting some ice, and seven reporting completely frozen still water. The distribution of count days across the count period remained uniform, occurring across 18 of the 23 days of the count period. The traditional holidays fell on the weekends this year. Fully half of the counts occurred on five of the six weekend days; the biggest count day being Saturday, December 17, with ten CBCs held.

There were numerous highlights this CBC season. Most are on eBird checklists, documented by photographs, and all have identification notes on the rarities. Birders tallied 28 species of waterfowl this year (plus three count week species listed above); the most notable is the aforementioned Pink-footed Goose. Other important observations include first Kentucky CBC record Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (6 at Ballard County); Ross’s Goose (1 at Ballard County); Cackling Goose (4 on 2 counts); and Tundra Swan (2 on 2 counts, and a count week bird on 2 others). Additional water bird species of note include Eared Grebe (1 at Russell-Adair County); Virginia Rail (1 at Paradise); Least Sandpiper (13 on 2 counts); Lesser Black-backed Gull (7 at Land Between the Lakes); Forster’s Tern (9 at Calloway County and a count week bird at Land Between the Lakes); and Black-crowned Night-Heron (6 at Louisville). Notable raptor reports include Golden Eagle (1 at Bernheim Forest); Merlin (12 on 4 counts and a count week bird on another, continuing the upward trend of this species in winter in Kentucky); Peregrine Falcon (4 on 4 counts); and Prairie Falcon (1 at Wayne County).
Further highlights include Common Raven (3 at Paintsville); House Wren (2 on 2 counts, a significant drop from 18 last year); Marsh Wren (2 on 2 counts, one of which is an Indiana bird); LeConte’s Sparrow (1 at Ballard County); Yellow-headed Blackbird (1 at Bowling Green); Western Meadowlark (2 at Ballard County); Brewer’s Blackbird (27 on 3 counts); Orange-crowned Warbler (1 at Louisville); Western Tanager (1 at Louisville; there is speculation that this may be the same bird that appeared within a few miles on the 2019 CBC); and Indigo Bunting (1 at Louisville).

The ten most numerous species were European Starling (102,229); Common Grackle (38,366); Red-winged Blackbird (30,028); American Crow (9,168); Canada Goose (8,836); Snow Goose (7,717); Mallard (7,463); Northern Cardinal (6,342); Mourning Dove (6,061); and Ring-billed Gull (5,997). There were 18 common species that were reported on all 40 counts, and 18 species were observed on only one CBC each. Six CBCs tallied over 14,000 birds: Elkton (103,077), Paradise (27,782), Sorgho (24,296), Ballard County (19,811), Louisville (14,510), and Allen County East (14,254).

The 476 participants in 244 parties, including some multi-CBC observers, logged a total of 1,364.5 party-hours and 6,832.75 party-miles. With 77 more participants (and two more CBCs) than last year, there was a resulting slight increase in party hours, and a small reduction in party miles. Birders spent 27.5 hours owling while traveling 81.25 miles, increasing both metrics this year. Forty-five feeder watchers logged 55.75 hours observing birds, both up from last year. All in all, Kentucky birders put in a good effort!

Thank you to the 476 observers who participated in this year’s counts. Once again, most of these observations have also been reported in eBird. My special gratitude goes to the 32 hard-working compilers who organized and executed their counts, submitted count results online, and endured my many requests and questions. I want to commend especially compilers who volunteer to run multiple CBCs: Roseanna Denton (4), Blaine Ferrell (2), Ed Groneman (2), Steve Kistler (2), and Brainard Palmer-Ball (3). To those who completed Rare Bird Reports or otherwise documented the unusual birds, thank you very much for your contributions to the CBCs and citizen science.