The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Iowa

The 2022-2023 CBC included 35 Iowa counts reporting to Audubon. The state experienced above average precipitation and below average temperatures during December.  Temperatures fluctuated widely though as just as many counts reported highs in the 40s as did single digit lows. Only one count experienced below-zero temps. Snow was present on the majority of counts, but only four reported totals of six inches or more. The total species count was 143. The high count was at Keokuk with 99 species. Other high counts were Davenport (93), Saylorville (85), Clinton (84), Green Island (82), and Burlington (80). Northwest Clayton County (57) led the northern counts. De Soto NWR (69) led the Missouri River counts.

The best bird was a Tundra Bean-Goose on the Lamoni CBC. It was first discovered on November 29 and was still present with Canada Geese on December 17th, the day of the count. Due to the AOU split of Bean Goose in 2007, this was a new species for the Iowa list. Amazingly, a Bean Goose of the Taiga race had been discovered on the DeSoto NWR count December 29, 1984.

A count week Scarlet Tanager at Ames was the next best bird. Not only was it a CBC first, but it was a record late date by more than two weeks. Until last year, Smith’s Longspur hadn’t been reported on an Iowa CBC since 1992. This year produced another one, photographed on the Saylorville count. A flock of eight Evening Grosbeaks were at Northwest Clayton County. Red Crossbills and a Townsend’s Solitaire were at Ida County. A Common Redpoll was at Clinton. An Ovenbird was at Iowa City. A count week Black-legged Kittiwake and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak were at Dubuque.

Trumpeter Swans were in record numbers statewide. Tundra Swans were primarily at Clinton. Greater White-fronted Geese and Snows were not present in large numbers. All the regular waterfowl were present, but in lower numbers than typical. Only Canvasbacks were in larger than expected numbers, especially at Keokuk and Clinton. Long-tailed Ducks were on two counts. Single White-winged and Black scoters were at Keokuk. Sandhill Cranes were confined to Clinton, Princeton, and Davenport. American White Pelicans were in good numbers on the Mississippi and at Red Rock. Ring-billed Gulls were in typical numbers. Herring Gulls were about half the average.  Iceland and Glaucous gulls were only reported from Red Rock. Ten Lesser Black-backed Gulls was a record. A Great Black-backed Gull was at Davenport.

Three Golden Eagles was a 20-year low. Northern Harriers were again found in record numbers. Bald Eagles had their best count in five seasons. Red-shouldered Hawk and Merlin numbers were typical. Red-tailed Hawks fell to a 25-year low. It was a very good season for Rough-legged Hawks. Peregrine Falcons were on four Mississippi River counts. Except for Short-eared, all the owls were down somewhat. No Snowy Owls were reported. It was a record year for Red-headed Woodpeckers, but Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers had their lowest count in 20 seasons.   Northern Shrikes were not plentiful. Loggerhead Shrikes were at Taylor County.

Red-breasted Nuthatches were tallied in fair numbers, but Brown Creepers and Carolina Wrens fell to 18-year lows. Seven Ruby-crowned Kinglets were typical, but Golden-crowned Kinglets were not plentiful. Eastern Bluebirds were at a 13-year low. American Robins and Hermit Thrushes were well below their averages. A Northern Mockingbird was at Cass County.  Cedar Waxwings were found at a six-year low. Yellow-rumped Warblers were a third their average.    

Two Spotted and eight Eastern towhees were found. American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos set records. The three Zonotrichia sparrows were in good numbers, but Fox, Song, and Swamp sparrows were somewhat reduced. A Field Sparrow was at Dubuque. A Lincoln’s Sparrow was at Keokuk. Savannahs were at Lost Nation and Des Moines. Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings were in large numbers as were all regular icterids. Rusty Blackbirds were in fair numbers and Brewer’s Blackbirds were at Keokuk and Sioux City.  Eurasian Tree Sparrows were in record numbers and reported north to Decorah and west to Boone County.