The Quad-Cities had a higher-than-normal number of bird species hanging around on Dec. 20, the day the annual Christmas Bird Count sponsored by the National Audubon Society was conducted in the area.
Kelly McKay, the wildlife biologist from Hampton who compiles the CBC numbers, said 25 field observers and 14 feeder watchers reported a total of 97 species. The record in recent years was 100 species in the Quad-Cities in 2018; the lowest was 81 in 2017.
The annual count of bird populations has been conducted nationally for 121 years. On designated days in December and January, volunteers count birds at feeders and in the field, taking note of both total number and species. Over time, the data reflect trends.
But of the seven regional counting areas that McKay tabulates, others did not have such high species numbers.
Semi-hardy birds, such as robins, were down, likely because temperatures in October and November were cold and as these birds began flying south, many probably just kept going, he said. Sometimes, if the fall is warm, they stick around. Also, in all the areas McKay counted himself, there was a "horrible juniper berry crop," he said.
Juniper berries on cedar trees and honeysuckle berries on honeysuckle are staple foods of semi-hardy birds and both fruits were down, he said. It's possible that a late spring freeze killed the blossoms that would have turned into berries, he said. Without food to hold the birds here, they continued south.
Also down were counts of waterfowl and bald eagles, he said.
Here are specifics for the seven counting areas:
Quad-Cities, Dec. 20. There were 25 field observers in 14 parties and 13 feeder watchers. The total number of birds counted was 75,987 individuals, representing 97 species.
Noteworthy: Big numbers of blackbirds including 30,047 red-winged blackbirds, 8,624 common grackles and 41 rusty black birds; these are concentrated in the wetland areas near Barstow. Also, 93 eagles, substantially down from usual. And: 35 snow geese, 515 greater white-fronted geese, 8,260 Canada geese, two blue-winged teal, two pied-billed geese, 10 sandhill cranes, 6,113 ring-billed gulls, two lesser black back gulls, 65 American white pelicans, 28 great blue herons, three red-shouldered hawks, nine red-headed woodpeckers, 10 pileated wood peckers, 20 American kestrels, nine red-breasted nuthatches, 22 brown creepers, eight winter wrens, 56 Carolina wrens, two red crossbills, six common red polls, one Baltimore oriole (likely deceased by now because of the cold, McKay said) and four brewer's blackbirds.
Andalusia-Buffalo, Dec. 24. There were 13 field observers in four parties and no feeder watchers. The total number was 6,085 individuals, representing 74 species.
Noteworthy: 169 bald eagles, which was the highest number in any of the seven regional counts. Also, 14 eastern bluebirds, 58 American robins, 20 cedar wax wings, 67 pine siskens, one common red poll, 40 lapland longspurs, 13 brown creepers, 29 snow geese, five trumpeter swans, one wood duck, 13 ring-necked pheasants, six rough-legged hawks, five northern saw whet owls and five yellow-bellied sapsuckers.
Muscatine, Dec. 22. There were 15 field observers in five parties and seven feeder watchers. The total number was 8,687 individuals, representing 74 species.
Noteworthy: 73 red-tailed hawks; "that's a lot of red-tails," McKay said. Also: seven wood ducks, 15 hooded mergansers, 5 rough-legged hawks, 30 barred owls, seven red-headed woodpeckers, 31 American kestrels, one merlin, one peregrine falcon, 28 cedar waxwings and 14 pine siskens.
Princeton-Camanche, Dec. 17. There were 12 field observers in six parties and no field watchers. The total number of birds counted was 7,945 individuals, representing 69 species.
Noteworthy: Historically, this area has good numbers of ducks and bald eagles but both were down this year. Also: eight great blue herons, 54 red-tailed hawks, six belted kingfishers, 12 pileated woodpeckers, six red-breasted nuthatches, nine brown creepers and 53 lapland longspurs.
Clinton-Savanna, Dec. 15. There were 10 field observers in six parties and two feeder watchers. The total number counted was 46,970, representing 85 species, another high count.
Noteworthy: a golden eagle, a snowy owl, 21 Carolina wrens, one marsh wren, four evening grosbeaks, one ruby-crowned kinglet, 6,84 trumpeter swans, 2,957 tundra swans, 26,265 canvass-back ducks, 2,330 lesser scaup ducks, 4,881 common golden-eye ducks and 284 sandhill cranes.
Western Mercer County, Dec. 21. There were 11 field observers in six parties and no feeder watchers. The total number counted was 9,562 individuals, representing 75 species.
Noteworthy: two eastern meadowlarks, 14 white-crowned sparrows, one fox sparrow, three norther saw whet owls, one short-eared owl, one long-eared owl, 120 American white pelicans, 18 northern bobwhites, 19 trumpeter swans and 5,100 greater white-fronted geese.
Van Petten-Sterling/Rock Falls, Dec. 23. There were seven field observers in five parties and no feeder watchers. The total number was 4,038 individuals, representing 59 species. The overall count was down because it was a "really, really windy day," McKay said.
Noteworthy: 151 American robins, the highest robin count in any of the regional counting areas. Also: 58 horned larks, one American white pelican, five brown creepers, two hermit thrushes and one field sparrow.