The 121st Christmas Bird Count in West Virginia

Let’s look back at last season’s Christmas Bird Count here in West Virginia during the 121st count season.

Last season was a unique one to say the least, with the Covid pandemic persisting, compilers were giving the option to cancel their counts.  Those who decided to run their CBC would need to follow all CDC and NAS strict guidelines. Amazingly, all 21 currently active WV Christmas Bird Count’s conducted surveys!  

Our 21 counts were divided up nicely this season, with our compilers working with one another, seven counts were conducted during each week of the season.  Six of our counts were run during weekdays, which greatly helps with count dates overlapping on the weekends.

It’s also important to note that there are a few CBCs that border WV and collect data from our state. Those data are not reflected in this report, only counts with CBC center points located in West Virginia are reviewed here.

One hundred twenty-two species were reported on count days, additionally two species were noted as count week birds this CBC season here in West Virginia.

Seasonal Weather Report:

Temperature Lows: Fourteen counts began below freezing.  Pocahontas County had a cold 18 degree start while Athens-Princeton Area had the coldest morning at 12 degrees.  Starting the morning much warmer were, Parkersburg 44, and Lewisburg at 41 degrees.  The 12/16/20 Wheeling count averaged the coldest in WV this season with a 27 – 32-degree range.     

Temperature Highs: Three counts rose above the fifty-degree mark, with a few others close to 50.  Inwood peaked at 55 degrees.  Lewisburg’s January 2nd count was the warmest in WV this season, with a 41 low and 50 degrees high.   

Weather Notes:  Nine counts reported some snow on the ground ranging from a trace to 12 inches. Canaan, Pendleton, and Morgantown all had significant snow coverage.  Three counts reported light snow falling during their counts, Wheeling experienced a heavy snow fall in the late afternoon hampering count effort. (Editor’s note, it seems the snow coverage had a beneficial effect, as some record numbers were reported this season.)  Four counts reported light rain.


Effort Report:

Participation:  Six of our counts had 20 or more participants, Morgantown had the highest participation with 36 birders afield.  Eleven counts reported 11 to 19 in the field, while four circles noted under eight.

Hours in the Field (diurnal):  Three counts reported over 70 hours of effort on count days.  Inwood with 93 party hours led the state, followed by Morgantown (79 hrs.) and Lewisburg (72.25 hrs.).  Average diurnal field effort statewide this season was 54 hours.

Miles Tallied:  Four counts tallied over 400 miles of effort.  Inwood again led with 537.75 miles of circle coverage, followed by Morgantown (486), then Athens-Princeton and Wheeling with 402 – 401 miles.  Average miles covered statewide this season was 287 miles.

Feeder Watchers:  Eighty percent of our counts had participants watching their feeders/yards.  Morgantown had the highest participation with 18 watchers.  Also notable, Pendleton County with 12. 

Nocturnal Birding:  Just over fifty percent of our counts reported nocturnal hours.  Morgantown’s 11.25 hours/124 miles was by far the most reported.  Other impressive owling stats came from Inwood, 10.25 hrs./88 miles, and Parkersburg’s 8 hrs./66.75 miles. 


121 WV State Effort Totals:

By foot: 425.75 miles in 487.75 hours – By car: 5594 miles in 647 hours

By ATV: 2 miles in 1 hour – By boat: 6.75 miles in 1.25 hours


Bird Reports:

The avian groups in this report reflect the 2020 American Ornithological Society (AOS) checklist 

Most species within the avian groups are placed in order of abundance

Note: Only Count Day reports are listed unless otherwise noted

CW – Count Week / HC – High Count / * WV CBC State or Count Record


Geese/Swans:  Canada Geese (8240) were the fourth most abundant species statewide again this season, located on all but one count.  Rarer were the two Cackling Geese, and a Ross’s Goose found on the Morgantown count.  Moorefield noted Snow Goose as a count week (CW) species. 

Morgantown was the only count to report Tundra Swans (42).   Parkersburg noted one Mute Swan on count day and the rarer Trumpeter Swan as a CW species.

Eighteen duck species were reported this season

Dabblers:  Eight dabbling duck species were reported statewide.  On 90% of the counts, Mallards (2396), were the most numerous ducks statewide, taking the eleventh most abundant species spot this season.  High counts included Morgantown (464), Charles Town (306), and Parkersburg (288).  American Black Ducks (156), were found on 57% of the counts, Morgantown (53), reporting the most. Six counts came across Gadwall (86), they were most prevalent on the Charles Town (35) and Charleston (25) counts.  Discovered on five counts, Green-winged Teal (68) were reported in good numbers from Parkersburg (30) and Point Pleasant (24).  Fifty percent of our counts found Wood Ducks (31); Raleigh County (8) reported the most.  American Wigeon (23) was found on six counts, Morgantown (10) HC.  Scarcer finds included, Northern Shovelers (15) found on the Charleston (10) and Morgantown (5) counts, and Northern Pintail (6) on four counts.  

Diving Ducks:  All three mergansers were reported again this season.  Hooded Merganser (318), the most abundant diver, was found on 76% of the counts with Morgantown (158) reporting the highest statewide.  Fourteen counts tallied Common Merganser (215), high counts were reported from Hampshire County (55), Pipestem Area (36), and Charles Town (33).  The only Red-breasted Mergansers (2) reported were from the Wheeling count.  Seven counts tallied Bufflehead (168), with Morgantown (120) again reporting an amazing high count.  Ring-necked Duck (160) was also reported on seven counts, Point Pleasant (120) with the top spot.  Five counts added Ruddy Duck (43), Charleston (15) and Morgantown (14) with the majority. 

Rarer divers located this season included Common Goldeneye (4) on the Morgantown (3) and Charles Town (1) counts.  The state’s Redheads (3) were on the Point Pleasant count, and Lesser Scaup (3) on the Morgantown count.  Plus, Canvasback (2) were found on the Parkersburg count.

Gamebirds:  Eighty percent of the counts reported Wild Turkey (405). Morgantown (131) and Parkersburg (68) with high counts (most counts reporting under 20 birds).  Ruffed Grouse (4) numbers continue to decline, becoming rarer to find on a WV CBC.  The Athens-Princeton Area reported two RUGR, and both Moorefield and Pocahontas County had a single bird.

Grebes:  Nearly sixty percent of the counts reported Pied-billed Grebes (47); Morgantown (12) and Raleigh County (11) tallied the most.  One lone Horned Grebe was located on the Morgantown count.

Rails:   Charleston (38) and Point Pleasant (1) reported American Coot (39).  Rare this season, three counts reported Virginia Rails (6*); Charles Town (4), Moorefield (1), Morgantown (1).  Editor’s note: Six is highest number of VIRA recorded historically on a WV CBC. 

Shorebirds:  Found on 60% of the WV counts, Killdeer (119), Raleigh County (23) HC.  It was a good CBC for Wilson Snipe (21), located on five counts, with Pocahontas County (7) and Point Pleasant (6) tallying high counts.   

Gulls:  Four counts tallied Ring-billed Gulls (74); Wheeling (34) and Point Pleasant (31), the majority.  Herring Gull (8), were at Point Pleasant (7) and Ona (1).

Cormorant:  Double-crested Cormorants (46) were located on four counts, Charles Town (24) HC.

Herons:  Ninety percent of the counts found Great Blue Herons (117), Parkersburg (24) HC.

Vultures:  Black Vulture (1142) tallied on 70% of the counts are now seen throughout the state.  The eastern counts of Inwood (307), Lewisburg (265), and Pendleton County (137) prove to have the highest populations.  Ninety-five percent of the circles reported Turkey Vulture (1680) the fifteenth most common species found this season; Charleston (254) and Lewisburg (235) had the highest accounts.

Eagles/Hawks:  Recorded only a dozen times on a WV CBC, an Osprey was reported and accepted from the Elkins CBC.  The last one reported was 11 years ago on the 110th count from Hampshire County.    

Three eastern counts reported the Golden Eagles (5) submitted this season, Pendleton County (3), Hampshire County (1), and Pocahontas County (1).  Note: All GOEA sightings are submitted with Rare Bird Reports.

Fifty percent of the counts noted Northern Harriers (43); Moorefield (17) with the remarkable HC.

Coopers Hawk (75), the most prevalent accipiter, tallied on 90% of the counts with Morgantown (15) submitting the remarkable HC.  Fifteen counts reported Sharp-shinned Hawk (36); Moorefield (7) HC.  Rarer was the immature Northern Goshawk submitted and accepted from the Canaan count. 

Bald Eagle (167) numbers continue to rise on the WV CBC, reported on 85% of the counts.  Amazing numbers were noted from, Hampshire County (29), Pendleton County (29), Moorefield (24), and Charles Town (19).

Red-tailed Hawk (434) as expected, was the most common buteo reported this season and found on all counts; Morgantown (54), Charles Town (42), Moorefield (42), and Point Pleasant (39) the high counts. Ninety percent of the WV counts reported Red-shouldered Hawk (282).  Rarer, Rough-legged Hawks (4) were submitted from Canaan (2), Hampshire County (1), and Morgantown (1). 

Owls:  Six of the eastern owl species were reported this season.  Eastern Screech-Owl (72), the most prevalent; Morgantown (19) with the most nocturnal hours, reported the high count, notable results also came from Huntington (12) and Inwood (11).  All nocturnal teams located Barred Owls (43) and Great Horned Owls (24).  Morgantown (10-5) again reported high counts of both.

Moorefield (4), Canaan (1), Morgantown (1), and Parkersburg (1) reported Short-eared Owls (7); Morgantown (7) added the only Northern Saw-whet Owls (7).  Again, this season, Moorefield (4) tallied the only Barn Owls (4) statewide.

Kingfisher:  Including a CW bird, all counts added Belted Kingfisher (127).  

Woodpeckers:   Seven woodpecker species were found this season.  Listed in order of abundance are tallies for Downy Woodpecker (978), Red-bellied Woodpecker (956), Northern Flicker (390), Pileated Woodpecker (361), Hairy Woodpecker (227), and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (160).  Charles Town (41) with an amazing YBSA high count.  Only eight counts located Red-headed Woodpeckers (24), Pendleton County (10) HC. 

Falcons:   Ninety percent of the counts had American Kestrels (210), high counts came from Ona (31), Point Pleasant (27), and Pendleton County (24).  Again, this season, Peregrine Falcons (12), were located on counts where they breed, Huntington (4) and Point Pleasant (4) HC’s.  Six counts found Merlins (10) Morgantown (3), Charleston (2), Parkersburg (2), Charles Town (1), Moorefield (1), and Point Pleasant (1).

Flycatchers:  Seventy Percent of the counts found Eastern Phoebes (54); Hampshire County (10), Moorefield (8), Oak Hill (7), and Ona (6) with nice high counts. 

Vireos:   Rare on a WV CBC, a White-eyed Vireo appeared again this season on the Morgantown count, the third season in a row.  Note: Historically, WEVI has only been reported during seven CBC seasons in WV.

Jays/Crows/Ravens:  Blue Jay (3244) numbers continue to increase in WV, with most counts reporting birds in the hundreds, Charles Town (54) recorded the fewest.

Found on all counts, American Crow (32,891) was the most abundant Corvid species this season.  Large crow roosts reflect the substantial number of crows reported seasonally.  Roosts were reported again this season from Raleigh County (18,500 est.) and Charleston (9500 est.).  Note:  Historically, one of the largest WV CBC crow roosts, located on the Wheeling count, is apparently in flux, with many of the birds relocating.  No roosting birds were reported this season, and although attempts were made to find the roost near white-out snow conditions hampered efforts.   Ninety percent of counts tallied Common Ravens (504).  Lewisburg (92) had a remarkable CORA tally, many of those reported by one party, in a rare winter “unkindness” of ravens.  Rare on a WV CBC, a Fish Crow was submitted from Pendleton County.  

Thrushes:  The sixteen most abundant species statewide, Eastern Bluebirds (1670) were located on all counts, the high counts were Hampshire County (224) and Charles Town (188).  American Robin (1641) numbers fluctuate year to year, AMRO dropped from last season from the 2nd most abundant species statewide to 18th this season.  All counts reported Hermit Thrush (114); Ona (14), Huntington (11), and Morgantown (11) with high counts.

Mimids:  All counts added Northern Mockingbird (764); Charles Town (113), Inwood (84), and Ona (66) HC’s.  Rarer, seven counts found Brown Trashers (7), and three counts submitted Gray Catbirds (3).

European Starling:  From a supposed 100 birds released in the 1890’s, and now, European Starlings (27,615) the second most abundant species found statewide this season.   Between two to four thousand EUST were reported on each of these counts, Inwood, Moorefield, Charles Town, Huntington, and Parkersburg.

Cedar Waxwing:  Only 43% of the counts tallied Cedar Waxwings (264), with Hampshire County (90) HC.

Finches:  The American Goldfinch (1667), was the seventeenth most abundant species statewide, Charles Town (210) HC.  Pine Siskin (259) tallies came in from around 50% of the counts, Morgantown (109) and Charles Town (95) the high counts.   Sixteen counts noted Purple Finch (194), Morgantown (42) and Hampshire County (41), had those high counts. 

Other rarer winter finches reported this season included Evening Grosbeak (319), with Canaan (160) reporting a very notable HC, most of which were added by one amazing feeder/yard watcher.  The Canaan (1) and Morgantown (15) counts found the only Common Redpolls (16), and the Huntington (7) and Pendleton County (1) counts reported the only Red Crossbills (8) on count day.  (Pocahontas County reported RECR during CW).  

Sparrows:  This season there were counts with significant snow coverage as mentioned earlier in the weather notes, this was a key factor in the sparrow numbers reported this season.

Eleven sparrow species were found this season.  The third most abundant species found statewide this season was Dark-eyed Junco (8446*), with an amazing record number of those birds being tallied from Pendleton County (4050*). (Editor’s note:  Last season the DEJU statewide total was 3242.).  White-throated Sparrows (3013*) were also reported on all counts, Pendleton Co. (547), and Charles Town (486) with the high counts.  The Song Sparrow (2939*) numbers were up almost 100% from last season, Moorefield (329*) reporting the HC.  On 71% of the counts, White-crowned Sparrows (475) were up 100% from last season, Moorefield (207), the HC.  Though most counts reported less than a dozen Eastern Towhees (287), Point Pleasant (81) had an impressive HC.  Swamp Sparrows (178) were up over 40% this season, Ona (48) with a big chunk.  Fox Sparrows (115*) are rarer, but typically found in low numbers on a WV CBC, but this season, Pendleton County (70*), had another remarkable record.  Savannah Sparrow (48) is another seasonally rare sparrow, only five counts reported them, while normally found in single digits, Point Pleasant (43*) reported a really nice ‘flutter’.

Blackbirds:  Just over 50% of the counts reported Red-winged Blackbirds (1204), Charles Town (497) with the majority. Common Grackles (622) were also reported on half of the WV counts, Charles Town (294) and Point Pleasant (236) tallying the most by far.  Eastern Meadowlark (206) numbers were up by 11x from last season, Point Pleasant (51), Pocahontas County (43), and Pendleton County (42) with the high counts.  Six counts reported Rusty Blackbirds (148), a 50% increase from last season, Parkersburg (85) finding the most.  Both Moorefield (320) and Point Pleasant (195) noted high numbers of Brown-headed Cowbirds (637).   

Warblers:  Yellow-rumped Warblers (199) were tallied on 66% of the counts, Charleston (35) and Point Pleasant (32) HCs.  Rarer this season were the Palm Warblers (6) submitted by Point Pleasant (4), Huntington (1), and Wheeling (1).

Other Noteworthy Birds:  Six counts reported Horned Larks (206), Pendleton County (124) HC.  Five counts tallied, American Pipit (122), Morgantown (56) high count.  Sandhill Cranes (25) are always a nice WV CBC find, Ona (24) reporting all but the one Parkersburg (1) found.   Raleigh County reported the only seasonally rare House Wren.   Another seasonally rare find, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female) was submitted by multiple observers on the Inwood CBC.

For more information on West Virginia’s Christmas Bird Counts and complete seasonal CBC data, go to the Brooks Bird Club website

Here you will find where all the West Virginia circles are located, compiler contact information, and count dates (when available) for all WV counts.

This was my fifth year as the West Virginia State Editor, and I would like to again thank all the WV state compilers for their dedication and all their hard work. Without these compilers and all their participants our state would not have been so well represented during this 121st winter bird survey.

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