The 121st Christmas Bird Count in Ohio

Welcome to a review of Ohio’s participation in the 121st National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count (CBC). We have historical data for a total of 74 Ohio CBCs. During the 2020-2021 count period, Ohio observers participated in 67 different CBCs, two of which, Canton (OHCT) and Guernsey County (OHGU), are new circles. 

Dec 2020 was warm and dry in Ohio. The average December temperature throughout the Midwest was 4.2 degrees above normal, though temperatures in southern Ohio were near their annual averages (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The increase in the average temperatures in the Midwest was caused in part by a mid-month warm spell (NOAA). Ohio’s CBCs were conducted under mostly cloudy skies, and only two counts reported periods of heavy rain during the day. A few counts reported periods of light rain. There were no counts conducted under the dreaded day-long, dreary, cold, bone-chilling December rain that we often get in Ohio. Snow was almost entirely absent, and only a few counts reported ice on their local ponds or lakes and rivers. Field conditions were generally good for birders, and biking birders: Ohio CBC participants birded 260 miles by bike in 95.25 party hours, compared to 177.5/64 the year before.

Let’s look at birder participation. During the 121st CBC season, 1973 Ohio field birders collectively tallied 169 species, five more species than during the 120th count. The proverbial 800-pound gorilla (COVID-19) that signed up for each of our counts didn’t have as devastating an effect on turnout as feared, though four counts opted not to run, and several other counts reported reduced turnout. Ohio CBCs in the 2020-2021 season were only short 99 field birders from the 2072 who participated in 2019-2020, prior to the pandemic. Likely, many birders felt the need to get out and participate in something comforting and meaningful during a difficult year. Count participation ranged in size from two (Bucyrus and Goll Woods) to Cincinnati’s 90. The median number of participants per count was 22. Three counts reached the 80s: Lakewood with 86, Columbus with 82, and Cuyahoga Falls with 80. Hocking Hills and Millersburg each had 75, Ragersville 70, Wilmot 69, Cleveland 62, and Burton 58 were also among the higher CBCs participants-wise. 

There were plenty of bird highlights, including a new state bird for Ohio CBCs and a possible all-time record high CBC count for anywhere. The Say’s Phoebe on the 18 Dec Wilmot CBC is a first Ohio CBC record. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird reported from the Hamilton-Fairfield circle marks the second time this species has stayed around long enough to make it onto an Ohio CBC list. Sabine’s Gull at Cleveland and LeConte’s Sparrow at Ragersville are both the third Ohio CBC records for these desirable species.

Toledo is the only Ohio count we know of that has a pelagic birding party (they recorded 21 miles and four party hours by boat), and the ability to search offshore Lake Erie brings some fascinating returns. The Toledo scaup counts are worth looking at. Through video, photo, and field counts Toledo’s pelagic duo reported some 250,000 combined Lesser and Greater Scaup. Lesser Scaup accounted for more than 150,000 of them and Greater Scaup 100,000. (Toledo’s Greater Scaup final tally is actually 100,001. The “1” looks funny, but it represents a single bird reported by a separate party). Toledo’s Greater Scaup count is possibly the highest number of that species ever reported on a Christmas Bird Count anywhere (Matt Anderson, pers. com.).

There was a mix of unusual species reported, from waterbirds to winter finches and western strays, as well as an interesting variety of gulls, rails, shorebirds, and waders. Rufous Hummingbirds at Western Hamilton County and Wooster, a Pacific Loon at Ashtabula, an American White Pelican at Gypsum and single Varied Thrushes at Columbus and Wilmot represented the western wanderers. Cadiz documented a Swainson’s Thrush. Other “wandering” birds of note include Black-headed Gull (Lakewood), three Common Terns (Lake Erie Islands), and a Red-throated Loon (Cleveland).

Evening Grosbeaks were widespread. Ohio counters reported a total of 315 grosbeaks, from Adams (8), Cadiz (18), Delaware Reservoir (1), Hocking Hills (9), Mohican State Forest (265), Trumbull County (3), and Wooster (11), and added a count week report from Wilmot. Thirty-three counts reported Common Redpolls. Two counts reported their first-ever Pine Warblers (Western Hamilton County and Wilmot), and those new count birds were the only two reported this season in Ohio. Hoover Reservoir tallied two Summer Tanagers. 

Did Wilmot’s lone Dickcissel, the only one reported this season, clinch the tie with Toledo for the highest species count at 94? Maybe not if your Wilmot party had found the Pine Warbler or the Field Sparrow or the Common Yellowthroat, but every bird counts on a CBC, be it a lone rarity or the one-hundred-thousand-and-one Greater Scaup.

Toledo and Wilmot tied for most species at 94. Western Hamilton County and Wooster were right behind at 93, followed by Canton with 92, Mansfield’s 90, and Cincinnati and Lakewood at 89. Other counts in the eighties included Ottawa NWR and Oxford (80); Lake Erie Islands (81); Cadiz and Gypsum (83); Cleveland and Columbus (84); Firelands, Millersburg and Quail Hollow-Hartville (86); and Ragersville (87). Fifteen counts tallied 70 or more species. Another 15 had 60 or more. The warm weather this season seems to have helped deliver decent tallies for Ohio’s counts. Of course, people are needed to count those birds and add up all the numbers and party statistics, and that brings us to the annual thank you portion of this recap.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the 121st National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. The CBC season is important to the birding community and is arguably our longest-running community tradition. Let’s hope for good health and good birds for everyone in 2021! 

We would like to thank the National Audubon Society for making their compilation of CBC data available to us. Visit the CBC web site at http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count. All the data, including historical data, are available online at http://netapp.audubon.org/CBCObservation/. 

We would also like to thank Craig Caldwell who is the NAS CBC editor for Ohio and who provided the Ohio CBC compilation data used in this article. The annual CBC recap would take ages to write without Craig’s work and assistance. Matt Anderson provided a detailed and interesting recap of the Toledo CBC, particularly their Lake Erie birding-by-boat efforts.

We can only hope that the coming year is a good one and that the fates will allow us to have back the counts and birders that we missed this past year. Thanks to everyone who helped with the 121st CBC season!


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. National Centers for Environmental Information. “National Climate Report, December 2020.”
https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/national/202012 (accessed 23 April 2021).

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