Thirty-six Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) were conducted this year in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. A total of 145 species was recorded; the same as last year (which includes only birds identified to species). There were two additional species seen during Count Week: Pacific Loon seen at Land Between the Lakes, and Evening Grosbeaks observed at Lincoln’s Birthplace and Bernheim Forest. Total individuals counted were 297,532. Top species count for this CBC season was Ballard County with a remarkable 103 species. Allen County East was next, with 94 species. Eleven count circles reported between 80 and 89 species; eight observed between 70 and 77 species; and the remaining 15 counted between 36 and 68 species.
Weather was again mild in Kentucky, as it has been in recent years. The low temperatures ranged from 15°F to 51°F. The high temperatures ranged from 30°F to 69°F. Both these ranges are within a few degrees of last year. All-day or most-day cloudy weather predominated the counts (total of 33); but only 13 reported precipitation. Of these 13 counts, eight reported rain; five of which were all-day, mostly light, rain. Light snow was reported on five counts, all in the morning hours. Rivers and creeks were open, except in Hardin County where there was some ice in smaller creeks and drainages. Lakes and ponds were open, with ten counts reporting some ice on smaller ponds. While the distribution of count days across the count period was not uniform (this is typical), no doubt the COVID pandemic skewed the selected count days. The traditional holidays fell at the beginning of the week this year, and holiday travel was curtailed. Counts were distributed across 16 of the 23 days of the count period. There were only six weekend days this CBC season, and they hosted only eight of the 36 CBCs. Typically, the percentage of CBCs held on weekends is significantly higher.
There were numerous highlights this CBC season. Most are on eBird checklists, documented by photographs, and all have considerable identification notes on the rarities. Ross’s Goose (2 on two counts); Blue-winged Teal (6 on two counts); Red-throated Loon (1 at Calloway County); Eared Grebe (2 at Russell-Adair County); Great Egret (1 at Land Between the Lakes); Golden Eagle (3 on two counts); Virginia Rail (2 at Paradise); Sora (1 at Paradise); Lesser Black-backed Gull (7 on two counts); Snowy Owl (1 at Sorgho); Merlin (16 on five counts); Brown-headed Nuthatch (3 at London); House Wren (17 on seven counts); Sedge Wren (2 at Ballard County); Marsh Wren (1 at Paradise); Gray Catbird (2 at Hardin County); Tennessee Warbler (2 on two counts); Orange-crowned Warbler (6 on five counts); Common Yellowthroat (3 on two counts); LeConte’s Sparrow (4 on two counts); Harris’s Sparrow (1 at Shelbyville); Vesper Sparrow (3 on two counts); Lincoln’s Sparrow (1 at Ballard County); Western Meadowlark (1 at Paradise); Brewer’s Blackbird (3 at Otter Creek); and Red Crossbill (8 at Allen County East).
The ten most numerous species were European Starling (84,189); Common Grackle (54,660); Red-winged Blackbird (13,907); Brown-headed Cowbird (12,292); Mourning Dove (8132); American Robin (7990); Canada Goose (7379); Mallard (7220); American Crow (6227); and Northern Cardinal (6178). There were 21 common species that were reported on all 36 counts, and 21 species were observed on only one CBC. Three CBCs tallied over 20,000 birds: Paradise (68,765), Ballard County (24,933), and Allen County East (22,690).
The 420 participants, including some multi-CBC observers, logged a total of 1261 party-hours and 7541.5 party-miles. With 28 fewer participants than last year, these hardy birders actually increased party hours and party miles! Birders spent 31 hours owling while travelling 85.75 miles, both of which were down this year. Forty-four feeder watchers – double last year’s number – logged 67 hours observing birds. This was an outstanding effort!
I offer sincere thanks to the 420 observers who participated in this year’s counts. Once again, most of these observations have also been reported in eBird. My special gratitude goes to the 29 hard-working compilers who organized and executed their counts, submitted count results online, and endured my many requests and questions. I want to commend especially compilers who volunteer to run multiple CBCs: Kathy Caminiti (2), Roseanna Denton (3), Blaine Ferrell (2), Steve Kistler (2), and Brainard Palmer-Ball (3). To those who completed Rare Bird Reports or otherwise documented the unusual birds, thank you very much for your contributions to the CBCs and citizen science.