The 121st Christmas Bird Count in Indiana

Surprisingly, the 121st Christmas Bird Count season in Indiana was much like other years.  This was a surprise because this was the year of Covid 19, when most other aspects of life were turned upside down.  Once again, Indiana birders demonstrated that they would persevere - not just through the usual weather challenges, but even in the face of a pandemic!

Forty-four counts were held across the state this season with the help of a few safety modifications.  Another thing that didn’t change was the list of impressive rarities found this year, including two CBC firsts - Mottled Duck and Monk Parakeet.  Additional highlights included a Harlequin Duck, the state’s third Sora, three Purple Sandpipers, two Long-billed Dowitchers (Indiana’s 3rd and 4th), the second ever Fish Crow, the seventh Sedge Wren, second ever Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and fifth Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Eight species had record high totals this season - Gadwall (2987), Hooded Merganser (1593), American White Pelican (275), Bald Eagle (387), Red-shouldered Hawk (371), Lesser Black-backed Gull (11), Red-bellied Woodpecker (2503), and Eastern Bluebird (2610).  Two species found in unusually low numbers this year included Greater Scaup (26) with the lowest total in 27 years, and Northern Shrike - the single bird was the lowest count in 28 years.

Western Gibson County, again this season, had the highest species total with an impressive 108 birds.  Other high totals came from Goose Pond (101), Oakland City (95), and Sullivan County (95).  Forty-four counts reported data in Indiana this season (the same number as last year), which included 758 field observers and 221 feeder watchers.  A total of 2070 party hours, 441 hours of feeder observation, and 133 hours of nocturnal birding resulted in the discovery of 161 total species.  These totals were also a bit higher than last season, with the species total increasing by an impressive fourteen.

Despite plenty of open water, many compilers mentioned a lack of waterfowl.  However, there were still a number of highlights.  The top Snow Goose tallies came from Gibson (32,081), Knox County (10,905), and Goose Pond (6906).  Six circles had Ross’s Geese, including Goose Pond (7), Gibson (4), and Indy (2).  Southern Lake County had 19 of the season’s 27 Cackling Geese.  Only four counts recorded Trumpeter Swans, with the top totals coming from Dunes West (27) and Pigeon River (17).

There were a number of duck highlights this season.  It was a record year for Gadwall (3032), with big counts by Gibson (784), Knox County (777), and Oakland City (468).  The state’s first CBC record for “Brewer’s Duck” (Mallard X Gadwall hybrid) was found on the Dunes West count.  Greenfield’s Mottled Duck was a state CBC first.  Goose Pond provided the vast majority (419) of the Green-winged Teal total (558).  The top Canvasback counts came from Sullivan (44), Elkhart (25), and Oakland City (15).  Elkhart also had a nice Redhead tally (143).  Gibson (256) and Patoka Lake (250) were among the many contributors to the record Hooded Merganser total (1608).  Nice Ruddy Duck counts were provided by Knox County (195) and Elkhart (123).

It was a good year for sea ducks. Dunes West counters found a Harlequin Duck (a species that has been elusive in recent years).  Three circles had Surf Scoters - Bremen (2), Indiana Dunes (1), and Pigeon River (cw).  Dunes West had the lone White-winged Scoter, as well as a pair of Black Scoters.  The season’s other two Black Scoters were from an “inland” count, Pike County.  Surprisingly, all six of the Long-tailed Ducks were also added by counts away from Lake Michigan - Indy (4), Bremen (1), and Pigeon River (1).

Pike County found nearly half (15) of this year’s 36 Northern Bobwhite.  Only three circles contributed to the 19 Ring-necked Pheasants, with the bulk provided by Willow Slough (17).  Elkhart (212) and Terre Haute (133) had nice Wild Turkey totals.

The season’s seven Red-throated Loons came from the two Lakefront circles - Dunes East (4) and Dunes West (3).  Inland counts once again had the top Common Loon tallies, including Lake Monroe (86) and Patoka (21).  Sullivan County (53) and Gibson (47) had the highest Pied-billed Grebe totals, as well as the top Horned Grebe counts (33 and 20, respectively).  The American White Pelican total was a new record high for the third straight year; all 275 were found on the Gibson count.  Ohio River had an impressive Great Blue Heron total (216).  This season’s three Great Egrets were added by Sullivan County (2), and Gibson (1).  

Patoka Lake (220) and Terre Haute (123) found nearly half of the season’s Turkey Vultures.  Osprey were discovered on two counts this year - Tippecanoe (1) and Bremen (cw).  Single Golden Eagles were recorded by Big Oaks, Patoka Lake, Sullivan County, and Willow Slough.  Oakland City had the highest Northern Harrier total (48).  Bald Eagle (387) and Red-shouldered Hawk (371) continued their steady increase, both establishing new record totals.

Oakland City found the state’s third CBC Sora, the first in 13 years.  This year’s highest Sandhill Crane counts came from Muscatatuck (4786) and Whitewater (2800).  Three circles contributed to the season’s 18 Whooping Cranes - Goose Pond (16), Knox County (2), and Muscatatuck (cw).

It was a spectacular shorebird season with nine different species!  Counts with big Killdeer totals included Spring Mill (164) and Lake Monroe (156).  Goose Pond had a pair of Greater Yellowlegs, while Gibson added a single Lesser Yellowlegs.  Gibson also provided four Dunlin (the state’s first in ten years), eight Least Sandpipers, and a pair of Long-billed Dowitchers (Indiana’s third and fourth CBC record, and the first in 25 seasons)!  Three counts had single Purple Sandpipers (the first in ten seasons) - Dunes East, Dunes West, and Patoka Lake (a remarkable “inland” find).  Goose Pond’s seven Wilson’s Snipe were nearly half of the season’s total (15).  The lone American Woodcock this year was a count week Johnson County bird.

It was also a very good season for gulls with eight species recorded.  Dunes West had a count week Black-legged Kittiwake, as well as one of two Iceland Gulls (the landfill in Elkhart provided the second).  Lesser Black-backed Gulls continue their steady increase, with the 11 tallied establishing a new state high.  Bremen lead the way with six Lesser Black-backeds, with singles from Dunes East, Dunes West, Lake Monroe, and Gibson.  Bremen (1) and Dunes West (1) also added the season’s only Glaucous Gulls.  Elkhart also found the state’s first CBC “Nelson’s Gull” (Glaucous X Herring hybrid).  Dunes East (7) and Dunes West (5) combined for this year’s 12 Great Black-backed Gulls. 

Owl highlights included five Barn Owls from three counts - Oakland City (2), Spring Mill (2), and Goose Pond (1).  Nice Eastern Screech-owl totals came from Lake Monroe (27) and Elkhart (12).  Topeka (2), Lafayette (1) and Bremen (cw) had the only Long-eared Owls.  Three counts found Northern Saw-whet Owls - Lake Monroe (3), Goose Pond (1), and Spring Mill (1).  Snowy Owl went unreported this season.  

Spring Mill also recorded an impressive 125 Red-headed Woodpeckers.  This year’s 2503 Red-bellied Woodpeckers established a new record high.  Other noteworthy totals included Goose Pond’s 105 Northern Flickers and Knox County’s 94 American Kestrels.  Sixteen Merlin were spread across 12 circles, including four from Goose Pond and two for Knox County.

Indiana’s first CBC Monk Parakeet was found on the Dunes East count (far from their normal Lake County territory).  For the first time in 21 seasons, Loggerhead Shrike out-numbered Northern Shrike.  Springhill had all three Loggerheads - the highest state total in 20 years.  The single Northern Shrike (Dunes East) matched the lowest total in 28 seasons.

Eagle Creek had Indiana’s second CBC Fish Crow five years after they found the first one.  By recent standards, it was good year for Red-breasted Nuthatch, with the best counts by Goose Pond (57), Lake Monroe (33), and Elkhart (27).  Ohio River reported the lone House Wren, and Michaela Farm-Oldenburg found Indiana’s seventh CBC Sedge Wren - the first in ten years.  Sullivan County’s Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was only the state’s second CBC record, 13 years after the first.  Five circles had single Gray Catbirds this season.

Terre Haute had a count week Orange-crowned Warbler, while three circles found Common Yellowthroats - Willow Slough (1), Bremen (cw), and Dunes East (cw).  Goose Pond added a pair of Palm Warblers.  Single Pine Warblers were discovered by Muscatatuck and Ohio River counters.

The season’s sparrow highlights included 13 total Chipping Sparrows and Goose Pond’s nice count of 21 Savannah Sparrows.  Additionally, three Lincoln’s Sparrows were found by Spring Mill (2) and Goose Pond (1).  Goose Pond also contributed an impressive 81 Swamp Sparrows.

Oakland City’s Rose-breasted Grosbeak was Indiana’s fifth CBC record, and the first in 22 years.  Ohio River found only the second Dickcissel in the past 13 seasons.  Goose Pond provided 603 of the 713 total Rusty Blackbirds, and the only four Brewer’s Blackbirds this year.

If it hadn’t been overshadowed by Covid 19, this season would have almost certainly have been remembered for its winter finches, which had one of their best showings in decades.  South Bend (2) and Bremen (cw) had Red Crossbills, while Elkhart added four White-winged Crossbills.  The 151 Common Redpolls was the best total in seven years, with nice counts by Topeka (74), Dunes East (33), and Dunes West (20).  For a flight year, the 343 Pine Siskin was a fairly typical number; the top numbers were turned in by Bremen (115) and Elkhart (60).  More impressive was the season’s 33 Evening Grosbeaks, thanks to Lake Monroe (29), Mary Gray (3), Dunes East (1), and Bremen (cw).

Stay abreast of Audubon

Our email newsletter shares the latest programs and initiatives.