The 121st Christmas Bird Count in Louisiana

During the 2020-2021 (121st) Audubon Christmas Bird Count, Louisiana birders conducted 27 counts, down from the previous high of 30 counts. Reserve-Bonnet Carré CBC was not conducted this year after the retirement of the compiler. Lake Charles and Sabine NWR CBCs were not conducted because of extreme impacts in the region from Hurricanes Laura and Delta during the fall. Even so, and despite the Covid-19 pandemic, a near high of 235 parties dedicated 1700 party-hours to count birds. An average of 17.9 people participated in each count, with Baton Rouge (64) having twice as many participants as St. Tammany (32), the second most active CBC. In addition, 57 feeder-watchers provided 115.37 hours of count data. A total of 1,625,599 individual birds were counted, with Red-winged Blackbird (551,705), Snow Goose (301,926), and Brown-headed Cowbird (216,862) topping the list and collectively representing 65.9% of all birds counted.

The species total across all Louisiana CBCs was 250 species, plus an addition five species not countable per Louisiana Ornithological Society rules (Canada Goose, Muscovy Duck, Whooping Crane, Monk Parakeet, and Scaly-breasted Munia). Ten Review List species and two species complexes were found during CBCs including Long-tailed Duck (1, Natchitoches; 1, New Orleans), Red-necked Grebe (1, New Orleans), Western Grebe (1, Shreveport), Vaux’s Swift (24, Baton Rouge), Broad-billed Hummingbird (1, Baton Rouge), Pacific-slope/Cordilleran “Western” Flycatcher (1, New Iberia; 1, St. Tammany; 1, Venice), Brown-crested Flycatcher (1, New Orleans), Couch’s Kingbird (1, Lacassine NWR-Thornwell), Tropical/Couch’s Kingbird (1, New Orleans); Mountain Bluebird (1, Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie NWR), Black-headed Grosbeak (1, St. Tammany), and Bullock’s Oriole (1, White Lake).

Among the 27 Louisiana CBCs, 22 topped the 100 species mark. Lacassine NWR-Thornwell tallied the most species (157) among the counts, with New Orleans making an excellent showing at 156 species, Palmetto Island at 154 species, and Baton Rouge at 147 species. Natchitoches (115) and Red River NWR (113) had the highest number of species among north Louisiana counts.

The large irruption of winter finches in the east touched into Louisiana this winter. Several undocumented reports of Evening Grosbeak (all flyovers) came from different parts of Louisiana during the Christmas Bird Count season, although none was accepted by the Louisiana Bird Records Committee. Purple Finches were in good numbers, with a total of 418 reported from 20 CBCs, plus one additional CBC report this species as a count week. Similarly, a total of 601 Pine Siskins were reported from 17 CBCs. Although not as abundant, 25 Red-breasted Nuthatches from 11 CBCs was also a relatively good count.

A total of 14 species of warblers were found during the CBCs, representing a somewhat average winter. The most unusual was Tennessee Warbler (1, Grand Isle). A recent trend of high numbers continued for Black-and-white Warbler (15 from 9 counts), Yellow-throated Warbler (10 from 4 counts), and Prairie Warbler (7 from 5 counts). Other notable warblers included Ovenbird (Grand Isle), 5 Northern Waterthrushes (from 5 CBCs), 2 American Redstarts (Baton Rouge), and 5 Yellow Warblers (from 5 CBCs). Wilson’s Warbler, a species that has fairly substantial fluctuations from year to year, was relatively abundant this winter; a total of 35 was found from 12 CBCs.

This was one of the best winter hummingbird seasons in many years, although it’s sometimes hard to get a full picture from the limited CBC season. Even so, counts of wintering hummingbirds included 14 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, 16 Black-chinned Hummingbirds, 7 Archilochus sp., 2 Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, 59 Rufous Hummingbirds, 58 Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbirds, 4 Calliope Hummingbirds, 1 Anna’s x Selasphorus Hummingbird hybrid, and 13 Buff-bellied Hummingbirds.

Other notable finds included Least Bittern (6, Johnsons Bayou; 2, Venice; 1, Creole), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (19, Venice), White-tailed Kite (3, White Lake; 2, Johnsons Bayou; 1 Lacassine NWR-Thornwell; 1 Sweet Lake-Cameron Prairie NWR; 1, Fort Polk), Broad-winged Hawk (1, Grand Isle; 1, Venice), Swainson’s Hawk (1, Lacassine NWR-Thornwell), Solitary Sandpiper (1, Lacassine NWR-Thornwell; 1, New Iberia), Pectoral Sandpiper (1, Lacassine NWR-Thornwell), Black Tern (1, Johnsons Bayou), Common Tern (1, Johnsons Bayou), Short-eared Owl (1, Pine Prairie), Chuck-will’s-widow (1, Grand Isle; 1, Venice), Least Flycatcher (1, Johnsons Bayou; 1, New Iberia; 1, New Orleans; 1, Venice), Ash-throated Flycatcher (3, Baton Rouge; 3, New Orleans; 1, Red River NWR; 1, New Iberia; 1, Palmetto Island; 1, Venice), Great Kiskadee (2, White Lake), Western Kingbird (4, Venice; 1, Baton Rouge; 1, New Orleans; 1, Lacassine NWR-Thornwell), Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (2, Venice), Bell’s Vireo (1, Lacassine NWR-Thornwell; 1, Venice), Northern Rough-winged Swallow (2, Palmetto Island), Cave Swallow (4, Crowley; 1 Johnsons Bayou), Grasshopper Sparrow (1, D’Arbonne NWR), Clay-colored Sparrow (1, Palmetto Island), Lark Sparrow (1, Lacassine NWR-Thornwell; 1, White Lake; 1, Baton Rouge), Summer Tanager (1, Baton Rouge), Western Tanager (1, Baton Rouge), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1, Creole; 1, New Orleans), Indigo Bunting (3, Baton Rouge), Painted Bunting (1, Palmeto Island; 1, Baton Rouge; 2, Lafayette; 1, Northshore-Slidell), Dickcissel (1, St. Tammany), and Baltimore Oriole (2, Northshore-Slidell; 1, Thibodaux; 1, St. Tammany; 1, Baton Rouge; 1, Lafayette).

A huge amount of gratitude goes to the compilers of Louisiana’s CBCs, as they ensure that Louisiana birders can continue this tradition of birding with a purpose. The 2020-2021 CBC compilers included Abigail Arfman, Chris Brantley, John Dillon, Robert Dobbs, Marty Floyd, Toddy Guidry, Terri Jacobson, Erik Johnson, Gary Kelley, Delaina LeBlanc, Andrew Morang, David Muth, Glenn Ousset, Katie Percy, Larry Raymond, Wendy Rihner, and Michael VanEtten. All of the compilers are also extremely grateful to the CBC volunteer participants who often fight the elements, and now Covid-19, to find and count birds, to advance our understanding of bird populations in the region.

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