The 119th CBC in Minnesota

Despite the unseasonably warm start to the count season and mostly comfortable weather for the rest of the counts, the cold weather before the start resulted in a lack of open water for most of the counts, significantly reducing the number of waterfowl and gulls and therefore the total number of birds. Record numbers of birders participated in the counts, but even the abundance of most feeder birds (chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, goldfinches), thrushes, winter finches, and diurnal raptors, was not close to compensating for the low number of waterfowl resulting from the lack of open water. Notable finds included a first Minnesota record Tufted Duck in the Duluth canal, a Mountain Bluebird discovered on the Cedar Creek Bog count, a Baltimore Oriole visiting a feeder on the Henderson count, and a Turkey Vulture flying over the St. Paul (north) count.

Eighty-three of 84 circles collected and reported data, a new high number. Only the Agassiz N.W.R. count was not run. The Munger count was conducted as an introductory test run and the results were not reported to the National Audubon Society.

Total participation (2028) represents a new high 5.4% above last year's record. The 524 feeder watchers were approximately the same as the last three years. Average participation of 24.4 was slightly above last year's. Fifteen counts had more than 40 participants compared with 11 last year and 14 two years ago. Owatonna with almost identical turn out as last year had the most feeder watchers (83) and the most total participants with 94. Henderson had 67 feeder watchers and no other count had even half that. Three of the four central Metro counts had the most surveyors in the field with over 70 (Excelsior 76, St. Paul 75, Bloomington 71). The next highest counts were St. Paul (northeast) 51, Duluth 46, and the practically roadless Isabella with 43. The average number of field surveyors was 18.1, compared to 17.5 last year. The average number of feeder watchers was 6.26 compared to 6.1 last year.

The count period started unseasonably mild for December across the state and almost half the total counts were completed with highs reaching near or into the forties in those first days. For the most part the weather stayed mild with cold snaps on the 28th and 29th and on New Year’s in northern Minnesota, affecting about 17 counts. Pillager had a low of -26 degrees and Hibbing had a low of -25, but the winds were for the most part mild and temperatures in many of these counts climbed as much as 25 degrees to much more “enjoyable” temperatures. The count period ended with unseasonable warmth and the Nelson, Wisconsin, count recorded a high of 52 degrees on its small slice of Minnesota on January 5th.  Overall it was much warmer than the last two years.

Only 57 counts had snow on the ground, compared with 63 and 72 the last two years. Fourteen counts had six or more inches compared with 11 last year with six counts equaling or exceeding last year's maximum depth of 14 inches. Only two of the 14 counts with six or more inches of snow were not in northern Minnesota and only one was before Christmas. Despite warm weather, colder weather earlier in the month resulted in lakes around the state being frozen on 82% of the counts.

The total count of birds was 273,280, considerably below last year's total (397,682), but only about 5.5% below the 10-year average. Whereas last year 54% of the total count was from the count of Canada Geese and Mallards, this year they represented 25.5% of the total and it took five species to account for half of the count. The species count (139) was better than last year's (137), but not as good as three years ago (140). Of the sightings that were reviewed, 10 sightings on count day were not accepted, mostly because of inadequate or missing documentation. Only two of the non-accepted sightings were of a species not found elsewhere in the state. An Eastern Phoebe was ID'd as a junco upon review of the photos. A Red-necked Grebe, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a Coopers Hawk, a Merlin, a Harris’s Sparrow, and a Brewer's Blackbird were all entered into non species designations (ex. hawk sp.). A couple of other reports were deleted when that category was not applicable.

Even with close to average counts, Canada Geese (49,232 down almost 75% from last year's 184,910) and Mallards (20,548 down more than 35% from last year's 31,729) represented the most and second most numerous species in the state and 25.5% of all birds counted and almost 95% of all waterfowl. Of the 27 species of waterfowl (compared to 28 last year) all but one species were at or below average in numbers, not counting a first appearance ever on a Minnesota Christmas Bird Count of a Tufted Duck, hanging around Canal Park in Duluth. Trumpeter Swans exceeded last year's total to raise to the second highest count (4037).  Cackling Geese were at the lowest numbers in seven years. Snow Geese were absent for the second time in three years, after 19 years of being reported. The other notable finds were a pair of Common Mergansers and a Wood Duck in Granite Falls. While first winter records, these were more likely evidence of a lack of history of winter reports on this second year count than birds showing up out of range. Four species of water dependent birds (cormorants, pelicans, herons, and kingfishers) were found. Again, like last year, Double-crested Cormorants were missed and only Belted Kingfishers were in higher numbers than usual. A Black-crowned Night-Heron was an unusual find, although not a first winter record on the Fergus Falls count. The Great Blue Heron on the Cedar Creek Bog count was a first county winter record.

Upland game birds were for the most part reported in near average numbers. Only Gray Partridge and Ring-necked Pheasants deviated to 10% below and above average respectively. The three most common diurnal raptors (Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, and Rough-legged Hawk) were found in above average numbers, while the less common hawks were found at about average numbers. About 55% of both Bald Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks were found from the Metro Area south along the Mississippi River. While Red-tailed Hawks show steady numbers and range, Bald Eagles have expanded their range as their numbers have recovered to the point that today they found on almost every count throughout the state. Other hawks were not as regionally concentrated. A remarkable find was a Turkey Vulture on the St. Paul (north) count, the 16th report on the Minnesota counts. Great Horned and screech owl numbers were reminiscent of early years when they were more common. Barred Owls were reported at lower numbers than last year approximating the ten-year average. The 11 Barred Owls on the Excelsior count represented 17.5% of the total. Five other owl species were recorded in just a handful of locations, none unexpected. The three expected species of falcons were found in slightly elevated numbers. The rarely ID'd Prairie race Merlin found on the Lac qui Parle count and the out of range American Kestrel were two noteworthy finds.

Herring and Ring-billed gulls were found in very low numbers, the third lowest and lowest in the last 10 years.  Almost 98% of the Herring Gulls were found along Lake Superior. The handful of Ring-billed were found in the Metro Area and south along the Mississippi River. One Iceland and three Glaucous Gulls were also reported.

Rock Pigeons, which have been declining since the 1990's, and Mourning Doves were at about average numbers for the last 10 years. Eurasian Collared-Doves continue to strongly expand in numbers and territory. All nine species of woodpeckers were well represented this year.  The common woodpeckers (Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Pileated) were at record or near records levels. Downies and Hairies were found on almost every count. Overwintering Red-headed Woodpecker numbers were down significantly from last year at Cedar Creek, but still accounted over 80% of that species in the state.

Winter field birds, among the more variable count species had low numbers this year. Horned Lark numbers were about two-thirds of the 10-year average. About a third of the larks were found on the bare fields of Albert Lea near the southern border and another third were found on the snowy fields of Hendricks on the South Dakota border. The rest were found in small numbers in the south, central and west of the state in about half of all the counts. Snow Buntings were 16% below-average reported on 31 counts with 57% of the buntings in the Roseau count and another third in six other counts. Lapland Longspurs were less than 30% of average and reported only 12 counts with two-thirds of those numbers on three counts.

Crow and magpie numbers were down. Other corvid numbers were strong, however no corvids have yet rebounded from the peaks in the 1990's as indicated by numbers when compared to the number of observers. American Crows and Blue Jays are found in almost every count. Canada Jays' small numbers bounce around on a clear four or five year boom and bust cycle and are beginning a rebound from last year's nadir. Northern Shrike numbers were down from last year and below-average, but too variable to note any trends. Black-capped Chickadees, both nuthatches, and Brown Creepers were all at record high levels. Tufted Titmouse numbers were about average for the last 10 years, but this still represented a continued range recovery from lows some 35 to 40 years ago. Golden-crowned Kinglet numbers were down. Six Carolina Wrens were found in locations around the Metro Area and in the south, not counting a count week bird in the far northeast in Grand Marais. This is the second highest count on record. A Winter Wren was found in New Ulm and in St. Paul (north).

American Robin numbers rebounded from last year's lowest in 20 year count to a record high count. Whereas last year they were found in less than half the counts, this year they were found in just under 80% of the counts. Like last year more than half were found on the Metro Area counts. Eastern Bluebirds were found in near record numbers mostly in central and southern Minnesota.  The six other species of thrushes, thrashers, and mimics were found in small numbers. It is rare to get eight thrush family species. The most notable was the first county and fourth Minnesota CBC record of a Mountain Bluebird discovered on the Cedar Creek Bog count.  A Gray Catbird was a first winter county record for Beltrami County.

Bohemian Waxwing numbers were up slightly from last year's low. Cedar Waxwing were correspondingly down slightly from last year's high. Bohemian Waxwings were found in 19 northern counts, while Cedar Waxwings were more widespread, found in 45 counts. Very few counts had both.

European Starlings and House Sparrows, among the most abundant and widespread species in the state. Both rebounded from declines over the previous two years. Starlings had the highest number ever recorded. Although when the number of counters are taken into account, both species still have been declining significantly over the last 30 years. 

Dark-eyed Juncos numbers increased, while American Tree Sparrows decreased. The two species, which account for over 97% of the remarkable 14 species of sparrows (highest ever, 11 last year) reported, were for the second year below the ten-year average. The 198 White-throated Sparrows were twice the previous record. Song Sparrow numbers were the second highest in 15 years. The other 10 species each had no more than a handful of reports. There were six first county winter records: Chipping Sparrow (Alexandria, count week & Jackson Co.), Vesper Sparrow (Fargo-Moorhead), White-throated Sparrow (Granite Falls), and Song Sparrow (Jackson Co.).

Most of the blackbird species numbers were significantly below average. Only Brown-headed Cowbirds were above average. Distribution was highly concentrated with 72% of the Red-winged Blackbirds on two counts and 96% of the Brown-headed Cowbirds on three counts. None of the other four species had more than 10 birds reported on any count. Noteworthy reports included a Baltimore Oriole (the sixth Minnesota CBC report) on the Henderson count and Brewer’s Blackbirds on the Kensington and Morris counts.

Northern Cardinal for the first time in six years had above average numbers, in part because of the reduced numbers the last five years. Cardinal numbers have been trending down for approximately the last 20 years, but the range has remained the stable. “Southern finch” (American Goldfinch and House Finch) continue the trend of suppressed numbers, even though goldfinch numbers were up this year. “Northern finch” populations, which are the most variable of any group in the state, were mostly strong. Pine Siskins and Pine Grosbeaks irrupted with record or near record levels, while Red Crossbills and Purple Finches had high numbers typical of irruption. Common Redpoll numbers were strong for an off year, perhaps indicative of a minor irruption. Evening Grosbeak and White-winged Crossbill numbers were low. Goldfinches and Pine Siskins were found on over 85% of the counts. Redpolls were found mostly in the north, while grosbeaks and crossbills were all found in the north. House and Purple finches were mostly in the south.

A complete table of the results of the 119th Christmas Bird Count in Minnesota (includes data from outside of Minnesota from border counts) is available at: https://moumn.org/CBC/coordinator_yearend_table.php?year=2018&main

For Minnesota only data:

https://moumn.org/CBC/coordinator_yearend_table.php?year=2018&main&mn

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

http://moumn.org/CBC/documents/MN CBC 119 Birds for Review.xls

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