The 123rd Christmas Bird Count in Texas

A Social Flycatcher returning for a “2nd helping” of Texas hospitality, a Pacific Wren (UR) new to Texas,  a Rose-throated Becard that has not been on a Texas CBC in a decade, a montane invasion of Pinyon Jays, Juniper Titmice, Red Crossbills and Evening Grosbeaks, a rare Red-necked Grebe (UR) near the Coast and a spectacular Red-eyed Vireo to add to our collection of lingering passerines were the Headliners of 380 species, one CW bird, 12 forms and 11 exotics reported during the season.  Uncommon to rare species (see Rarities) were found throughout the State which produced the expected excitement at area Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs).

Species Tallies

Matagorda County led the State and Nation with 218 species and Guadalupe River Delta was 2nd in Texas with 202.  Jackson-Calhoun moved up in the ranks to 3rd with 194 species.  Corpus Christi placed 4th with 190, Freeport had 185, San Bernard N.W.R. 180, Galveston 170, Laguna Atascosa N.W.R. 161, Bolivar Peninsula and Brazoria 157, Corpus Christi-Flour Bluff 155, Harlingen and Powderhorn 154, Choke Canyon 153, Attwater Prairie Chicken N.W.R. and Anzalduas-Bentsen 152, Weslaco 151 and Port Aransas 150.


Texas reported 40 species which were only found in one of the 116 CBCs.   The four (exclusives) found at the El Paso CBC were the most for the State: Lewis’s Woodpecker (7; # years reported in past decade), Cassin’s Vireo (1), Steller ’s Jay (6) and Pacific Wren (0).  The Pacific Wren was relatively recently split from the Winter Wren and will be a new Texas CBC record if approved by the Texas Bird Records Committee.

Davis Mountains CBC had the only Montezuma Quail (10), Pinyon Jay (0) and Cassin’s Finch (4).

San Bernard N.W.R. CBC had the only Black rail (10), Ovenbird (10) and Prairie Warbler (7). 

Anzalduas-Bentsen CBC had three Hook-billed Kites (2) and one Rose-throated Becard (0)

Balmorhea CBC added Red-throated Loon (7) and Glaucous Gull (2)

Parrots were not roosting in normal locations this winter.  Brownsville CBC found the only one of Red-crowned Parrots (10).  They also located the Social Flycatcher (1) present for its 2nd winter.  Guadalupe River Delta CBC found a Lesser Nighthawk (6) before daylight and a Red-eyed Vireo (0) along the San Antonio River.  This is the first CBC report of this species for the decade, but they were reported five different seasons during the previous decade.

Attwater Prairie Chicken N.W.R. CBC found the expected Greater (Attwater’s) Prairie-Chicken (9) and Brazoria CBC added a hard to locate wintering Magnolia Warbler (4)Boerne CBC reported a returning Scott’s Oriole from previous years (7).   Chisos Mountains CBC had 55 Mexican Jays (10), and Corpus Christi CBC reported a lingering Hooded Warbler (2).   Cypress Creek CBC tied 13 other CBCs in the United States by having one Dickcissel (9).

Dallas County CBC reported a Little Gull (6) and the new Fort Bend CBC photographed a Western type Flycatcher (1).  The bird did not call which was needed to distinguish between the Cordilleran and Pacific-slope.

Granger CBC reported three Mountain Plovers (9) and Hagerman N.W.R. CBC a Long-tailed Duck (10).  Houston (Central) CBC reported 11 Red-vented Bulbuls (7) which can now be placed on a Texas CBC list because their population has been re-classified to established.

Jackson-Calhoun Counties CBC photographed a Black-headed Grosbeak (6) and Laredo CBC reported a lingering Prothonotary Warbler (3). Kenedy County CBC was fortunate to have a Least Tern (4) flying next to one of their boats while they surveyed the Laguna Madre.

Matagorda County CBC photographed one Rose-breasted Grosbeak (6), and Orange County CBC a Red-necked Grebe (2; UR) which was a major surprise.  Spring Creek CBC found its resident family of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (10).  San Antonio CBC contributed to the Texas tally by photographing the only White-winged Scoter. The White-winged has become relatively uncommon over the last 18 years with 50 reported on Texas CBCs as compared to 129 Surf and 498 Black.

Tascosa-Seyffert CBC had six Evening Grosbeaks (1) and West End Galveston Island CBC reported the only Eastern Kingbird (4).

Westcave Preserve CBC photographed an Allen’s Hummingbird (7).  Immatures of this species appear very similar to Rufous Hummingbirds and provide birders a challenge to correctly identify the Selasphorus type hummingbirds.

Rarities Slideshow
Count Week

National Audubon Society Compiler Resources mentions “Count week (cw) birds serve as a place holder for that species on your checklist in a given season. They are not at all a part of your official census data for that season's day.”  With this being said, it is still good to know what you missed during count day.

I encourage scouting.  It does help locate species for the CBC and manage your time and birder resources.  It is a sick feeling when you miss a species you know was there.  However, it is a worst feeling when a real rare species is found the day after your count that you did not have a clue was present.  (Spotted Rail would be an example.)

This season an Orchard Oriole was reported during Count Week at Freeport CBC.


I always do a self-evaluation at the end of a CBC.  Did I miss species or were they just not there?  Looking at how many species on the count which were represented by one individual might provide an index to the likelihood you Missed species with the higher % indicating species more likely have been missed.  As example, at Port Aransas CBC 14% of the 151 species were represented by one individual on 19 December with 29 birders, and Matagorda County CBC 5% of the 218 species were represented by one individual during the same day and similar weather with 101 birders.  This index is obviously not perfect😊 but might have some relevance to individual CBCs on whether it is warranted to add additional birders.

Texas CBCs this season individually averaged 13.4% of their species tally being represented by one bird and 5% (19) state-wide.

Eleven species which were reported in Texas in at least six of the last 10 CBC seasons but were not found during the 123rd were Glossy Ibis and Yellow-breasted Chat which were present for 10 of the 11 seasons; Pacific Loon and Mountain Chickadee who were present in nine of the 11 seasons; Purple Gallinule, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Smith’s Longspur who were present eight of the 11 seasons; Calliope Hummingbird, Greater Pewee, and Brown-crested Flycatcher who were present in seven of the 11 seasons, and Tennessee Warbler who was present in six of the 11 seasons. 

The Count Season

The 123rd Season started on Wednesday 14 December with four CBCs being conducted and 112 for 22 more days through Thursday 5 January for a total of 116 CBCs (most for Texas).  Saturdays the 17th and the 31st were the busiest days with 23 and 11 CBCs, respectively.  The 24th– 25th were the only days not used to conduct CBCs.


Texas rain dancers, holders of weather charms and focused wishes to the Weather Makers were better than last year.  Weather during the counts hampered 51% of the CBCs (fog, rain, <32 - >80oF, wind 21+mph).  Freezing temps occurred on 20% with the 11 degrees at Buffalo Lake N.W.R. CBC being the coldest.  Temps >80 occurred on 2% with 86 being highest at Harlingen CBC.  Fog occurred on 14% of the counts and rain on 16% of the CBCs.  The moisture was generally welcome except when it occurred on your CBC.  Winds 20+ mph occurred on 13% of the counts with the strongest at 30 mph at Del Rio CBC and Houston (Central) CBC.  The worst weather was likely experienced on the first Monday of the season with five CBCs catching strong winds, rain and some lightning during passage of a major cold front.


Total CBCs - 116 (most Texas CBCs), Birder-Days – 3321 (3rd highest), Party-Hours – 8043 (2nd highest for Texas and 2.8% above 10-yr avg.), and Party-Miles – 26,578 (15th highest). 

My wife, Dora Ann, and I managed to participate in eight counts during the first nine days. It was a Great Experience on the Coast being able to participate in many of the CBCs with the highest species numbers.  We recommend you try it.

New Counts

Texas keeps adding and dropping CBCs as birder interest shifts in the State.  Texas added Fort Bend, San Antonio East, Tascosa–Seyffert, and Whitney Lake, but did not run Chaparral W.M.A., Guadalupe Mountains, Kerrville, Lake Tawakoni, Proctor Lake, Richland Creek W.M.A., and Sea Rim S.P.

Special Aspects

At the end of each CBC report, there is a section labeled “SPECIAL ASPECTS”.  The compiler is provided this space to discuss issues related to their CBC.  I read every one at least once. 

Compilers from 27 of the 116 CBCs provided some meaningful comments/information in the Special Aspects Section.  The main topic was how weather (wind/rain/fog/URI) negatively or positively affected the results with drought and morning rains being the biggest issues.  The Victoria CBC was the only count that mentioned it was a nice day. 

Extremely dry conditions moderated a little as fall and winter progressed with a less intense drought through most of Texas.

Population Trends (Where Have All The Birds Gone?)

[Population trend section will compare number of individuals of a species tallied this season to the tallies adjusted for effort from the last 10 years in Texas.  Population changes indicated will be for those reports which deviated by more than one standard deviation from that species 10-year average unless otherwise indicated.  Percent decreasing is underrepresented because missed birds are not part of the % decreased.  National avian trend data for > 50 years can be found at].

Table 1.  Percentage of species increasing or decreasing by CBC season in Texas


109th                19%                            16%                             65%                 Hurricane Ike

110th                24%                            14%                             60%                 drought

111th                30%                            4%                               66%

112th                26%                            22%                             52%                 drought

113th                19%                             24%                            57%                 drought

114th                13%                             21%                            66%                 drought           

115th                25%                            15%                             60%    

116th                21%                            16%                             63%

117th                20%                            15%                             65%                 warm

118th                17%                             20%                            63%                 Hurricane Harvey

119th                15%                             27%                            58%                 wet fall

120th                17%                             24%                            59%                 dry fall

121st                20%                             24%                            55%                 drought

122nd               13%                             34%                            53%                 wet summer

123rd                18%                             22%                            60%                 drought

Species with decreasing populations occurred at >% than those increasing on Texas CBCs during the last six years. Eighty-two species (22%) were below average this season.

However, remember that despite 22% of species declining, 78% of the species were at normal or higher population levels.

Species tallies will be shown in (parenthesis) when a species is discussed below in this section.

Waterfowl:  8 species increasing, 3 decreasing and 23 stable.  Goose numbers were lower than normal and 5 of the 8 increasing species were diving ducks.

Upland Game Birds: Gambel’s Quail (356) was above average and the other 7 species were stable. 

Loons thru Spoonbill:  2 species increasing, 14 species decreasing and 15 stable.  Common Loon (321), Pied-billed (3800) and Eared Grebes (273), Double-crested Cormorant (43,807), Cattle Egret (746) and Green Heron (49) were at their lowest levels for the decade.  Heavy rains in May appeared to stimulate development of new wading bird inland colonies.  However, as soon as nesting finished birds left the area.

Diurnal Raptors: 3 species increasing, 2 decreasing and 12 stable.  Osprey (1150) and White-tailed Hawk (243) were below average for the decade.  In contrast, Bald Eagles (377), and Red-shouldered Hawk (1425) were near their highest level for the decade.  The 3 Hooked-billed Kites reported were the most in 19 years.

Rails – Cranes:  1 species increasing, 4 decreasing and 6 stable.  Limpkin tallies increased from 2 last season to 13 at 4 sites.  What will next season bring? 

Yellow Rail (3), Virginia Rail (88) and American Coot (65,602) were well below average, and Whooping Cranes (125) were reported at 5 CBCs.

Shorebirds:  Over 207,000 shorebirds were reported this season.  Three species were increasing, 7 decreasing and 18 stable. This was a little better than last year when half of the species were declining. Coastal Tip CBC (132,884), Kenedy County CBC (27,490) and Corpus Christi CBC; (12,393) supported the most shorebirds.   American Avocet (8420), Black-bellied Plover (1548), Snowy Plover (270), Killdeer (7675), Spotted Sandpiper (515) and Sanderling (2281) were at their lowest level for the decade.  Western Sandpiper (103,421) and Dunlin (36,239) are 2 of the most abundant shorebirds on the Texas Coast.

Jaegers – Skimmer: This group of species had the highest percentage (40%) of species increasing.  Seven increased, 2 decreased and 11 were stable.  Lesser Black-backed Gull (474) was at a record high.  Black Skimmer (2789) was reported at its highest level in 6 seasons, and Iceland/Thayer’s Gulls are being reported annually.  They were found at TXBZ and TXDA this season.

Pigeons – Ani: One species increasing, 4 decreasing and 4 stable.  White-tipped Dove (242) was reported at its highest level in the decade.  Eurasian Collared-Dove (5056), Inca Dove (709), White-winged Dove (19,403), and Groove-billed Ani (2) populations declined. These low numbers are not a one-time dip because of conditions this year.  It is a continuation of several years of low numbers.

Owls – Nighthars:  3 species increasing, 2 decreasing and 5 stable.  This is a challenging group of species to monitor because most survey activity needs to be at night.

Swifts – Hummingbirds: 1 species increased (RTHU) and 6 were stable.  158 individuals were reported with only half having minimal forms of documentation (sex id).

Kingfishers – Woodpeckers: 2 species increasing, 4 decreasing and 11 stable.  Ringed (38), Belted (1035), and Green kingfishers (72), and Golden-fronted Woodpecker (1555), declined.  Kingfishers as a group have been doing well prior to this season.

Falcons:  Populations of all species of Falcons have been relatively stable with only the Peregrine (72) occurring lower than normal the last 3 years.

Parakeet - Flycatchers: 4 species increasing, 8 decreasing and 6 stable.  The Least Flycatcher (27) was the only regularly occurring species to increase. Monk (573) and Green (365) parakeets, Red-crowned Parrot (122), Eastern Phoebe (5676), and Vermilion (290), Ash-throated (8), and Scissor-tailed (27) flycatcher populations were below average.  The declining flycatcher populations might still be dealing with issues recovering from Winter Storm Uri.  Eastern Phoebe had dropped from an average of 7253 in the decade prior to Uri to 3520 the year following.  The Guadalupe River Delta tried to give the species a rebound this season by reporting 918, but the rest of Texas could only come up with 4758 leaving the species 1577 below average.

Shrikes – Vireos: 2 species increasing, and 4 stable.  The 3 Plumbeous Vireos at 2 CBCs were a pleasant surprise.

Corvids: 2 increasing and 8 stable.  The Headliner for corvids is the first invasion of Pinon Jays (106) since the 103rd CBC season.  All other species were at normal levels.

Horned Lark – Swallows: 1 decreasing and 4 stable.  Tree Swallow (1232) was the only species below average.  I was afraid that Winter Storm Uri killed most of the wintering Cave Swallows which tend to roost in old swallow nests during winter and have been known to die during weeklong freeze events.  CBCs reported 502 last season and 794 this season alleviating fears.

Chickadees – Kinglets:  7 species increasing, 3 decreasing and 14 stable.  Small irruption of Juniper Titmouse (14) made it to the CBCs for the 1st time in 4 years despite Guadalupe Mountains CBC being absent.  Rock (144), Canyon (150), Pacific (1), Winter (210), and Carolina (5806) wrens, and Golden-crowned Kinglet (1939) were all above average.  Verdin (184), Cactus Wren (80), and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (11) declined.

Bluebirds – Mockingbird: 3 species increasing, 3 declining and 8 stable.  Townsend’s Solitaire and Clay-colored Thrush numbers increased, and likely still feeling the effects of Winter Storm Uri, Eastern Bluebird (4712), Brown Thrashers (227), and Northern Mockingbird (8007) populations were below the 10-year average.

Starling – Longspurs: 3 species decreasing and 5 stable.  European Starling (36,555) and Sprague’s Pipit (59) were at half of their average while Thick-billed Longspur (26) was at 6%.  The remaining species had average numbers.

Sprague’s Pipit CBC tallies have declined from the 1960’s until mid 1990’s where they appeared to have leveled off.  We posted a record high tally for the decade during the 121st season (168).  A low tally of 38 in the 122nd season following Winter Storm Uri and Severe-Extreme Drought on the breeding grounds.  The 59 this season was better than last.

Warblers: Texas reported 21 species of warblers.  Guadalupe River Delta CBC and San Bernard N.W.R. CBC were the top counts for warblers with 11 species each.  Brazoria, Corpus Christi, Freeport, and Matagorda County CBCs had 10 each.  Five species were reported increasing, 4 decreasing and 12 stable.  Prothonotary (1) and Hooded (1) warblers, Tropical Parula (4), and Yellow (24) and Wilson’s (134) warblers were above average. 

Ovenbird (1), Orange-crowned (2441), Yellow-throated (21) and Black-throated Green (8) warblers were below average.

Seedeater – Towhee: The top CBCs for this grouping of species were the Davis Mountains (21) followed by Balcones Canyonlands (19), and Balmorhea and Fort Hood (18).  Four species increased, 11 decreased and 17 were stable this season.  Sparrow populations have been trending downward for 5 years.  American Tree (52), Black-chinned (27), and Swamp (2799) sparrows, and Spotted Towhee (1144) bucked this trend, but they were in the minority.  Grasshopper (123), Nelson’s (48), Chipping (8285), Black-throated (327), and Lark (472) sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco (4133), Vesper (1829) and Lincoln’s (2024) sparrows, Canyon Towhee (120), and Rufous-crowned Sparrow (134) populations decreased.  The populations of the remaining 17 species were stable.

Tanagers – Dickcissel: 1 species increasing, 1 decreasing and 7 stable.  Painted Bunting (5) numbers increased, and Pyrrhuloxia (222) decreased.

Meadowlarks – Orioles: 3 species increasing, 3 decreasing and 11 stable.  Red-winged (2,363,275) and Yellow-headed (17,023) blackbirds, and Altamira Orioles (110) increased. Common (16,251), Boat-tailed (2991), and Great-tailed (71,485) grackles decreased.

House Finch – House Sparrow:  4 species increased, 1 decreased and 5 species remained stable.  Cassin’s Finch (33), Red Crossbill (80), Evening Grosbeak (6), and Scaly-breasted Munia (139) populations increased.  American Goldfinch (8088) declined.  Red Crossbills were part of the montane invasion and they were reported at 4 CBCs.  The 56 at El Paso, 22 at McNary, and the 1 at Balmorhea were expected sites, but the 1 at San Marcos was a surprise.  Scaly-breasted Munia have been classified as established and now can be added to species tallies in Texas.

Population Trends Slideshow
Most Common Birds

Twenty-one species occurred on at least 100 of the 116 CBCs.  The Mourning Dove occurred on all 116, Northern Mockingbird  and Northern Cardinal occurred on 114, American Kestrel in 113, Red-tailed Hawk in 112, Ruby-crowned Kinglet in 110, Great Blue Heron occurred on 107, White-winged Dove and American Robin in 106, Killdeer and Red-winged Blackbird 105, American Goldfinch and House Sparrow 104, American Coot, Savannah and Lincoln’s sparrows 102, Pied-billed Grebe, Eurasian Collared Dove, and Song Sparrow 101, and Eastern Phoebe and Loggerhead Shrike 100.


There was a 28% increase of photographs (454) received to document 224 species.  I used 42 of these photos from 26 CBCs in this report.  I encourage compilers to submit photos of birds reported on their CBC.  I need more photos for documenting unusual species.  I also use photos of common species like Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Bluebird, and Sprague’s Pipit to help tell the story of population trends of many species that are not rare.

. . . . .

We reported this season on 82 species whose populations were declining and 69 increasing in this decade. What will happen next year?  Join us during the next CBC Season to find out.