The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Minnesota

Despite horrible weather, the 123rd Audubon Christmas Bird Count (2022-2023 season) for Minnesota gathered a record number of participants who went out and found birds to count. The total number of birds (287,258) was down 9% from the previous year and 132 species was down from 135. While both numbers were above the ten-year average, that probably reflects the growth in the number of counts. Unusual reports included a first Minnesota winter record of a LeConte’s Sparrow photographed on the Bloomington count. There were 15 first county winter records (vs 11 last year). The steadily increasing populations of Trumpeter Swans, Wild Turkeys, and Eurasian Collared-Doves all set new records, as did Ring-necked Pheasants, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Horned Larks, Merlins, Downy and Black-backed woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and House Finches. In all it was a mostly good year for upland game birds, woodpeckers, feeder birds, and sparrows, and a poor year for waterfowl and owls.

Data in this summary is only for Minnesota and does not include participation and birds from outside the state in border counts. Eighty-eight of 90 counts reported data, a new record. Two counts were canceled because of bad weather, with one of the counts snowed out twice. Three new counts were established: Ortonville, West Hennepin County, and Minneapolis West.

Weather for the 123rd count in Minnesota could be characterized in one word: horrible. The 2022/2023 winter in Minnesota was one of the snowiest on record. December started out as “beautiful” for the southern two-thirds of the state until the storms hit on the first days of the count. Ten out of 42 counts in the first four days of the count were postponed or canceled. One that was postponed was canceled when the second date’s forecast was just as bad. When Paul Egeland went out on the 16th, he described it as “probably the worst weather I have had on this count [in 57 years] with ice and blowing snow and high winds.” And the count day before for him “was close to the worst [weather] we have had”.  This is the only count period that I have seen in recent years where every count had snow and the lakes were frozen or mostly frozen. Only 13 counts had temperatures above freezing and the high temperature reported for all counts was one count that hit 40 degrees. The deep snow hindered travel by foot, the poor weather cut the number of participants, and on many counts affected the number of hours in the field.

Despite the weather, the total of 2132 participants was a new high. This total included 552 feeder watchers, a decrease from the last two years. The average participation per count was 24.2 people, slightly off from last year’s 24.7. Eleven counts reported more than 60 participants, compared to only six last year. St. Paul North reported over 100 participants. While nine counts reported that all surveying was by car, the rest had people on foot, and on nine counts people were also out on snowshoes, skis, snowmobiles, and/or bicycles.

There were 164 reports which required additional review (vs. 143 and 180 in the previous two years). Sixteen sightings were not accepted because of inadequate (9) or no documentation or one report as a probable domestic escapees. Three other sightings were withdrawn, as obvious identification errors or data-entry errors. One report of swan species was upgraded to Trumpeter Swans. Several reports of unexpectedly high counts were all confirmed.

Like the last two years, 29 species of waterfowl were reported. With the exceptions of Trumpeter Swan and Common Goldeneye, those waterfowl species that usually are most abundant, were far less abundant this year. The 25,675 Canada Geese, our most abundant count bird, were 38% below the ten-year average, while the 20,815 Mallards were, only 8% below the ten-year average. Trumpeter Swans for the second year hit a new record high (5904), which was over 25% above last year’s record. Numbers of our usually third most common count bird, the Common Merganser, at 2112 were the lowest in five years. But that count is probably misleading as thousands of Common Mergansers were just outside the circle on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River on the Red Wing count. Interestingly diving ducks, with the exception of Common Mergansers, generally tended to be found in slightly above average numbers, while dabbling ducks were about average to significantly below average. This was probably indicative of shallow waters being frozen, but significantly more open deep water.

Four species of birds associated with water - Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorants, American Pelican, and Belted Kingfisher were reported, just like last year. The 10 Wilson’s Snipe were considerably more numerous than expected.

It was a good year for upland game birds. Six of the seven species were above the ten-year average, with only Ruffed Grouse having an off year. Wild Turkeys, with 6176 for the second year in a row, hit a record that was almost 50% above the ten-year average. Ring-necked Pheasants, the second most common count bird in this group, also hit a record with 4146, almost 275% above the ten-year average. Turkeys were like last year found on 84% of the counts, while pheasants were found on 65% of the counts, up from last year’s 57%. While the other grouse numbers were high, Gray Partridge numbers were the highest seen in 17 years, although still a shadow of the numbers from 35 to 50 years ago, when there were far fewer counters.

The number of Bald Eagles (1645) was the lowest in five years, but still above the ten-year average, as it exceeded all but one of the previous five years. Red-tailed Hawks (503), the second most common hawk, hit the lowest level in 15 years, while Rough-legged Hawks (122), the next most common, hit the lowest level in nine years. Sharp-shinned Hawk numbers (77) were at a record high, while Cooper’s Hawk numbers (54) were two below last year’s record high. Golden Eagles, Northern Harriers, and American Goshawks were all close to the ten-year average, while Red-shouldered Hawks were about half that average. The 24 Merlins was a record, while the count of 53 American Kestrels was well below expected.

It was an off year for owls. Great Horned Owl and Eastern Screen-Owl were both reported at half the ten-year average, while Barred Owls were above that average. For the first time in almost 60 years, there were more Barred reported than Great Horned Owls. Only 23 individuals were reported for all the other five species of owls. Only one count week Snowy Owl and no Northern Hawk or Boreal owls were reported in the state. A Long-eared Owl reported on the Ortonville count represented a first winter county record.

Herring Gulls were exactly at the ten-year average and represented 94% of all the seven species of gulls reported on the count. A seventh species was reported on count week. All the gulls were found on eight counts on Lake Superior and along the Mississippi River. Eurasian Collared-Doves (732) were reported at record levels for the third year in a row. Rock Pigeons (17,102) found on all but three of the counts, were 10% above average and Mourning Doves (1598) were 14% above the ten-year average.

This was the third good year in a row for woodpeckers. Of the five common species, Downy Woodpeckers (4702) and Northern Flickers (308) hit record numbers, while the other three (Hairy, Red-bellied, and Pileated) had their second highest counts. Downies and Hairies were found on every count, while Pileated were found on all but eight counts in the Southwest of the state. The four other woodpecker species totaled only 45 birds.  It was a bad acorn crop, and the few Red-headed Woodpeckers were at only one tenth their average. Black-backed Woodpeckers hit record numbers, but that total was only 37 for the state.

For the second year in a row, it was a peak year for Horned Larks, which set a new record level at 5706. It was also a good year for Snow Buntings, which had their fourth highest numbers, but a down year for Lapland Longspurs, who had less than half their expected average numbers. Horned Larks were mostly in the southwest. Snow Buntings were widely reported, but more abundant in the western two-thirds of the state. Seventy percent of the Lapland Longspurs were reported on the New Ulm count.

The three common corvid species (American Crow, Blue Jay, and Common Raven) were reported in above ten-year average numbers, although they still are below the pre-West Nile numbers. Black-billed Magpies were also above average, while Canada Jay numbers were again low. Both crows and Blue Jays were found on all counts, while Common Ravens were found on half the counts. The high Blue Jay numbers run counter to the theory that their count can be positively correlated to the quality of the acorn crop, which was down this year.

Northern Shrikes had a peak year and were found on three-quarters of the state’s counts. Black-capped Chickadees and both species of nuthatches were found at higher than the ten-year average numbers, while Brown Creepers were at about average. The chickadees were found on all counts and White-breasted Nuthatches were found on all but one count. Tufted Titmouse numbers reveal an increase in range. For the last ten years they have been reported on average on 13% of the state counts, whereas for the decade 20 years ago they were reported on 8%, and 30 years ago on less than 5% of the state counts.

Thrush numbers were strong with American Robins at its third highest and Eastern Bluebird at its second highest peak. The other four thrush and thrasher species totaled only 16 birds altogether. Hermit Thrushes were first winter county records and were found on both Lyon County counts. Both waxwing numbers were up this year with Cedar Waxwings at their third highest peak and Bohemian Waxwings at their fifth highest peak. Bohemians were concentrated in the Northeast and Cedar Waxwings were spread through much of the rest of the state. Both were reported in Duluth and two neighboring counts. European Starling numbers were below average. House Sparrow numbers were about the same as last year, high for the last two decades, but considerably below numbers in the 1990’s. For the sixth count in the decade a Eurasian Tree Sparrow was reported.

While Dark-eyed Junco numbers dropped over 32% from last year’s record, they were still the fourth highest count ever. American Tree Sparrows numbers peaked at the highest in the last ten years. The juncos and tree sparrows represented more than 99% of the 13 species of sparrows reported. The less common sparrows included first winter county records of Chipping Sparrows on two Goodhue County counts, a Fox Sparrow on the Little Falls count, Spotted Towhees on the Detroit Lakes, Northern Meeker, and Fargo counts, an Eastern Towhee on the Lakeville-Fargo count, and a first winter Minnesota record of a LeConte’s Sparrow on the Bloomington count.

Despite increases over the last year to the highest numbers in five years, Red-wing Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds were still below the ten-year averages. Common Grackles increased over 700% from last year. The rest of the seven species of blackbirds reported included small numbers of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, meadowlarks, Brewer’s Blackbirds, and Rusty Blackbirds. Northern Cardinal numbers were just below the record high of two years ago. Only one warbler was reported – a Pine Warbler from the Fredenberg count.

Eight of Minnesota’s ten expected species of finches have irruptive bursts into the state in winter. Some years they are here in great numbers and some years they are nearly entirely absent. The two non-irruptive species: House Finch (4853) had record numbers and American Goldfinch had their second highest count. Purple Finches and Evening and Pine grosbeaks were reported in above average numbers. The other five species experienced off years and did not head into Minnesota and its warmer weather.

A complete table of the results of the 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Minnesota (includes data from outside of Minnesota from border counts) is available at:

For Minnesota data only, which was used in this summary:

A table showing what sightings were reviewed, what documentation was received, eBird postings, and whether reports were accepted is available for download at:

Images of birds submitted for documentation (and not on eBird) are available at: