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Steve Weston
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The 122nd Christmas Bird Count in Minnesota

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The cold weather of the 122nd Audubon Christmas Bird Count (2021-2022 season) resulted in less open water and therefore fewer birds, but also fewer participants to find those birds. While the total number of birds (315,500) was down 6% from last year, it was still above the 10-year average. The 135 species reported was down from last year’s 141, but about average. Seven species were found at least on all but two counts. Unusual reports included Harlan’s Hawk, American Pipit, and Northern Waterthrush, all reported only once before, and Common Yellowthroat reported twice before. There were 11 first county winter records (vs 29 last year). The steadily expanding populations of Trumpeter Swans, Bald Eagles, Wild Turkeys, and Eurasian Collared-Doves all set new records, as did Cooper’s and Rough-legged Hawks, American Crows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. In all it was a mostly good year for feeder birds, woodpeckers, doves, warblers, sparrows, and gallinaceous birds, though a mixed year for finches and corvids and a down year for waterfowl and blackbirds.

Data in this summary are only for Minnesota and do not include participation and birds from outside the state in border counts. Eighty-three of 86 counts reported data, tying the peak number from three years ago.  The Battle Lake and Kensington counts were cancelled, and the Ely count did not submit data for review. One new count was added: Zitkadaŋ Waŋyakapi (“seeing birds”) by the Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Scott County counting birds on tribal lands. This count may have been the first in the United States explicitly set up as a count for a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People Of Color) community.

This count season’s weather was considerably colder than the last two years. After an unseasonably warm early winter lasting right into the early days of the count, the weather turned cold, although the lakes were for the most part already frozen. By the first weekend of the count, the weather was seasonably cold, but tolerable. Many counts reported that the birding was quiet, and numbers were down. By the New Year’s weekend, temperatures had turned brutal. Eight counts across northern Minnesota on January 1st and 2nd reported low temperatures between -28o and the extreme -38o of the Cook Area count. Martin Kehoe drove up from Illinois as he has done for the last 40 years to run the Beltrami Island and Baudette counts just south of the Canadian border. But, when he woke at his cabin to head out for the Baudette count, the temperature was -35o and he wisely decided it was too dangerous to hike out the three miles to his car. That same day at the Isabella count starting at -32o,Steve Wilson and Steve Schon found everything was bright, but unearthly quiet, except for the startling snaps of splitting tree bark sounding like the reports of rifle fire.

A reduction of almost 20% from last year’s record in feeder watchers to 572 resulted in a 2.5% drop in total participation to 2057, which was still the second highest Minnesota participation count. Average participation per count was 24.7, about a 6% decrease from last year. Fourteen counts had more than 40 participants, the same as last year.  Owatonna again had the most feeder watchers (96; 108 last year), but no longer had the most total participants, its 110 losing to Newfolden in far northwestern Minnesota, which with school participation had 113 in the field and none watching feeders. Three other counts had more than 60 bird counters in the field: Excelsior (74), St. Paul North (68), and Duluth (62). While all but 11 counts had surveyors out on the trail on foot, nine sent surveyors out on skis and/or snowshoes, and three on bikes. The average number of field surveyors was 17.9, compared to 17.6 last year. The average number of feeder watchers was 6.9 compared to 9.0 last year.

There were 143 reports which required additional documentation (vs. 180 and 82 in the previous two years).  Fifteen sightings were not accepted, because of inadequate (11) or no documentation (4). Three were withdrawn, with two probably data errors.

As with the previous year, 29 species of waterfowl were reported, but numbers were down significantly and only 11 mostly uncommon species were reported in above average numbers. The decline undoubtably related to less open water than last year. The 54,865 Canada Geese, our most abundant count bird, were 13% below the 10-year average, while the 21,091 Mallards were 8.5% below the 10-year average. While almost half the Mallards were found in four counts in the Metro Area, a slightly smaller percentage of Canada Geese were found in four counts outside the Metro, but widely scattered across the state. Common Mergansers and Trumpeter Swans are the third and fourth most abundant waterfowl in the state. While Common Merganser numbers this year were below average, Trumpeter Swan numbers hit a new record (4700). The 109 Long-tailed Ducks reported in Lake Superior far exceeded anything reported in the last 20 years but was below the average 30 to 40 years ago. The 235 American Coots, almost all reported from Alexandria, represented about twice the highest number in the last 19 years. The Common Loon reported on the Grand Rapids count was the first one reported on the Minnesota CBCs in six years. First winter county records included a Snow Goose in Granite Falls, a county week Ross’s Goose in Mankato, and an American Wigeon in East Grand Forks.

Four other species of birds associated with water were reported, including one count week Great Blue Heron, two Double-crested Cormorants, 12 American White Pelicans, and 39 Belted Kingfishers. The two cormorants were the first reported in six years. The pelican photographed in Virginia was the first winter county record for St. Louis County. A count week kingfisher reported on the Hendricks count was a first winter county record. Three Wilson’s Snipe were reported, including a first winter county record for the Redwood Falls count. Count week Killdeer and Sandhill Cranes were also reported.

The most abundant upland game birds, Wild Turkey and Ring-necked Pheasant, were widely found on 83% and 57% of the counts – similar to the last two years for turkeys and the last nine years for pheasants. Turkey numbers (6034) for the second year hit a record, almost 50% above the ten-year average.  Pheasant numbers (2144) were the highest in ten years, but barely higher than the average for the decade before that.  Sharp-tailed and Spruce grouse numbers were up, Ruffed Grouse slightly below average, while Greater Prairie-Chicken and Gray Partridge numbers were low.

It was a good year for raptors. Fifteen percent more Bald Eagles were reported than last year, representing for the second-year, record numbers (2274). They were found on all but one far north count, demonstrating their remarkable recovery. Over 50% of the eagles were on nine counts, all in the South Central and Southeast of the state. The second most common diurnal raptor, the Red-tailed Hawk, was found in similar numbers and distribution as last year with most in the southeast. It was a record year for Rough-legged Hawks (392), over 30% above the previous high. Typically, they are found on 55-65% of the counts, but this year they were found on over 80%. Northern Goshawk and Red-shouldered Hawk numbers dropped from last year, still above average for the last decade, though significantly down from 15 to 20 years ago. It was a peak year for Northern Harriers and Sharp-shinned Hawks and a record year for Cooper’s Hawks. Merlin numbers were small, but near a record high. Kestrels were above the ten-year average, but very much below the average of 15 to 25 years ago.

Owl numbers fell from last year. Eastern Screech and Great Horned owls were still above the ten-year average, while Barred Owls fell below average. The five other owl species were found in very small numbers with only 25 reports. Almost all the Short-eared Owls were found in just one location.

As with last year, four species of gulls were found on count day and two more during the count week. Gulls were below last year’s low numbers. Eleven counts, mostly along Lake Superior and the Mississippi/Minnesota River accounted for all reports. Eurasian Collared-Doves (729) broke last year’s record count, while Mourning Doves were above, and Rock Pigeons, found on all but four counts, were just below the ten-year average.

While four of the five common woodpecker species numbers were off from last year’s record, all five had their second or third highest counts. As with last year, Hairy Woodpeckers were found on all counts, while Downy was found on all but one northern count. Red-bellieds were found on all but nine northern counts, and Pileated on all but seven mostly southwestern counts. The other four species were found in small numbers. Notable was the first winter county record of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on the Redwood Falls count.

It was a mixed year for winter field birds with Horned Larks and Snow Buntings reported at well above average numbers and Lapland Longspurs well below average. Almost two-thirds of the Horned Larks were reported on just six southwestern counts. The Snow Buntings were more dispersed being reported on about three-quarters of the counts. More than two-thirds of the Lapland Longspurs were concentrated on just four counts in the southwest.

While it was a record year for American Crows, the sixth most abundant bird on the count, the number versus participation was lower than the ratio from 1998 to 2003. In other words, participants averaged 50% to 100% more crows at that time. Blue Jay and Common Raven numbers were down about 20%. Both species were considerably below the average per participant from the decade before 1995. These three species have apparently not recovered from pre-West Nile population levels. Crows were found on all but two counts, Blue Jays on all but one. Canada Jay numbers were at their lowest in over 20 years with over 50% on just two counts.  

Northern Shrike numbers were about the same as last year. Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches were well above average, but still down from last year’s records. Brown Creeper and Tufted Titmouse numbers dropped from last year’s records to their second highest. Red-breasted Nuthatch distribution was considerably restricted in comparison to last year, and numbers were below average.

American Robin numbers were down over 35% from last year, way below average. Eastern Bluebird numbers were over twice last year’s, producing the fourth highest peak. The 12 Townsend’s Solitaires tied for the highest count ever. Seventy percent of the robins were found on eight Twin City Metro counts.

As Bohemian Waxwing numbers went down (-60%), Cedar Waxwing numbers went up (+130%) in a relationship that has been previously reported in Minnesota. Over 95% of the Bohemian Waxwings were on five counts in the northeast. Cedar Waxwings were widely dispersed. European Starlings, our fourth most abundant bird, were about average. Similar to last year, they were concentrated on livestock farms distributed across the state on all but four counts. Ten counts around the state accounted for 50% of the total birds. House Sparrow numbers were up almost 20% over last year as they jumped from our fifth to third most common bird. The 24,683 House Sparrows were the highest count in almost 20 years. Still the counts were well below counts from the 1990’s and that is without considering the growth in participation. For the fifth time in eight years, Eurasian Tree Sparrows were found, this time on the Bluestem Prairie and Redwood Falls counts.

With more than 20% increase, a new Dark-eyed Junco record was set with 19,369, making the juncos the seventh most common bird on the count. Juncos were reported on all but five northern counts. The juncos and below average American Tree Sparrow numbers represented more than 99% of the surprising 15 (10 last year) species of sparrows reported during the count week. First winter county records of White-crowned and Savanah sparrows were reported on the Wabasha count.

Whereas last year most blackbird species were significantly below average, this year all were down from last year, and most were less than half last year’s numbers. Seventy percent of the Red-winged Blackbirds were on just five counts. Six species of blackbirds were reported during the count week, including a first county winter record Rusty Blackbird photographed on the Pine County count.

Northern Cardinals, down 13% from last year, were found on 84% of counts, the widest distribution ever. Eight out of the ten species of finches did better than last year and all but three were above average. Evening Grosbeak numbers were at a nadir, the fourth lowest in a very low decade, while Common Redpolls, House Finches and the crossbills were close to their highest numbers. All of the Evening and Pine grosbeaks were in the northeast or along the Canadian border, whereas as the goldfinches and Purple and House finches were found in counts throughout the state outside that area. Common Redpolls were found in all but 13 counts in the south.

A record 18 Yellow-rumped Warblers were found on five counts, including 11 on the Redwood Falls count, which alone would have been a record for the state. Bloomington’s count week Common Yellowthroat was a first winter county record and only the third CBC sighting, and their American Pipit was a first winter county record, only the second CBC record, and the third state winter record.   

 A complete table of the results of the 122nd Christmas Bird Count in Minnesota (includes data from outside of Minnesota from border counts) is available at:

https://moumn.org/CBC/coordinator_yearend_table.php?year=2021&main

For Minnesota data only, which was used in this summary:

https://moumn.org/CBC/coordinator_yearend_table.php?year=2021&main&mn

A table showing what sightings were reviewed, what documentation was received, eBird postings, and whether reports were accepted is available for download at:

http://moumn.org/CBC/documents/MN%20CBC%20122%20Birds%20for%20Review.htm

Images of birds submitted for documentation (& not on eBird) are available at:

http://moumn.org/CBC/recent.php?count_year=122&op= 

 

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