This was our 40th year conducting a Christmas Bird Count.  This year was different for a few reasons.  We had a very mild fall/winter going into the count.  Lows were around the freezing mark with highs around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds no higher than 7 mph.  The sky was clear (as compared to dense fog in 2022) so raptors were free to move about.  In short, a great day to collect data. The second thing to mention is that 2023 was one of the heaviest local mast years. There was an abundance of acorns, beechnuts, hickories and (most important) fruit crops (holly, viburnum, crabapple, Eastern Redcedar etc).  A combination of the mild weather and heavy fruit crops lead to high observations of Blue Jays, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Hermit Thrushes.   It will be very interesting to see what takes place in 2024 as lean years tend to follow mast years.

This past year we had 71 volunteers and 41 parties (third highest for the count).  The increase in the number of parties helps increase the number of observations, since the morning and afternoon are the most active periods for birds, with the exception of raptors wanting to move on some thermals or wind.  This is reflected in the number of party hours, which came in with the highest total ever for the count at 205.42 hours  (Average for the count is 146 hours).  All these factors resulted in a very successful count with 83 species, the third highest ever recorded for the count. Our average is 76 species.  We had 16 species with their  highest total counts ever; 10 species with their second highest counts, and 3 species with their third highest counts.

The following species had their highest totals ever reported:

  • Bald Eagles continue to soar with 23 observations (Average is 4).
  • Red-shouldered Hawks are also doing very well with 22 observations (Average is 4). The upward trend for RSHA’s in relation to Red-tailed Hawks (67; lower than our average of 76) will be interesting to see.
  • Merlins continue to make a good showing with 5 birds (Average is 1).
  • Peregrine Falcons came in with 4 birds (Average is 1).
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers had their highest total ever with 317 birds (Average is 139).
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers also did very well. We had 76 observations ( Average is 17).  This is more than double the next highest total.
  • Hairy Woodpecker came in with 69 observations (Average is 32).
  • Northern Flickers were also present in large numbers. We had 168 birds (Average is 99).
  • Pileated Woodpecker also did great with 36 observations (Average is 6).
  • Common Raven is becoming more common with 13 observations (Average is 2).
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglets also did very well with 52 observations (Average is 9).
  • Eastern Bluebirds were great with 343 observations (Average is 125).
  • Hermit Thrush had a great showing with 34 birds (Average is 5).
  • Fox Sparrows had 19 observations (Average is 2). It will be interesting to see if this species starts to hang around our area deeper into the winter.
  • White-throated Sparrows did very well with 1955 observations (Average is 937).
  • Pine Warbler had 8 observations which is the highest total ever (Average is 0). This species had single observations in 1991, 1994 and has become more routine on our CBC since 2013.

The following species had their second highest totals ever reported:

  • Northern Harriers came in with 6 birds (Average is 2). Our highest count was 7 in 2003.
  • Coopers Hawks also did very well with 21 observations (Average is 8). Our highest total was 22 birds in 2015.
  • Belted Kingfishers came in with 45 observations (Average is 24).
  • Blue Jays stuck around with the heavy mast crops this year. We had 646 observations (Average is 300).  This is the highest count since 1995.
  • Carolina Wrens also made a good showing with 366 observations (Average is 163).
  • Golden Crowned Kinglets had 77 sightings (Average is 35).
  • American Robins had a banner year with 4379 observations (Average is 1266).
  • Gray Catbirds did very well with 6 observations (Average is 2). The highest count was in 1984 with 7 and this year’s total matches 1991.
  • Chipping Sparrows did very well with 26 observations (Average is 3). This species has not been very common on our winter counts. Chipping Sparrows were in single digits until 2021.
  • Swamp Sparrows also did well with 16 observations (Average is 4).

The following species had their third highest totals ever reported:

  • Great Blue Herons had 38 observations (Average is 26).
  • White-breasted Nuthatches made a great showing with 230 observations (Average is 128). This is the best showing since 2014.
  • Northern Cardinals did very well with 500 observations (Average is 392).

Other species showing improvement:

  • Mourning Doves made a good showing with 799 observations ( Average is 700). This is the highest total since 2016.
  • Eastern Screech Owls also made their presence felt with 28 observations and the best year since 2014.
  • Carolina Chickadees made a significant step towards a return to more typical numbers from their 2018 slide. We had 227 observations (Average is 389).
  • Tufted Titmouse, which also crashed in 2018, showed a return to more typical numbers. We had 207 observations (Average is 233).
  • Brown Creepers were also present in good numbers with 43 observations (Average is 24). This is the 4th highest total ever and the highest since 2013.
  • Winter Wrens also did well with 19 observations (Average is 7). Winter Wrens have had  good showings since 2019.
  • Northern Mockingbird appears to be returning to its former form. We had 83 observations (Average is 89).
  • Cedar Waxwings made a good showing with 96 observations (Average is 134). This was the second-best year since 2015.
  • Eastern Towhee made a good showing with 21 observations (Average is 6). This is the 4th highest total for the count with double digits occurring in 2011, 2013, 2021 and 2023.
  • Purple Finches showed up with 20 observations (Average is 6).
  • We had 329 American Goldfinch (Average is 212). This was the highest total since 2008.

Great finds

  • Four Cackling Geese
  • Two Northern Saw-whet Owls
  • One Eastern Phoebe
  • Three Fish Crows
  • Two Black-capped Chickadees
  • One Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • One Savannah Sparrow
  • One Rusty Blackbird
  • Two White-Crowned Sparrows
  • One Pine Siskin

Declining Species

  • Mallards had only 172 observations (Average is 482). There has been a significant decline in reports of Mallards and we are not sure why.   It is not Avian Flu because the decline has been a general decline since 2017.
  • American Kestrel came in with 5 observations (Average is 14). We still have much work to do with this species. On a positive note, this is the highest total since 2016.
  • American Tree Sparrow came in with 6 observations (Average is 27). We wonder if they are not coming to our region due to milder winters further north.
  • Common Grackles tend to be feast or famine. This year was a famine with 1 observation (Average 286).

The complete species list is at https://valleyforgeaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/2023-Christmas-Bird-Count-Results.pdf

Our spring Bird count will be conducted on June 1, 2024.