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January 22, 2014

Official Christmas bird count tally results are in

By Sarah Wojcik
C & G Staff Writer

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Official Christmas bird count tally results are in
A purple finch perches in a tree in Turkey Creek, Texas, during the 2012 Christmas bird count. Purple finches are one of the several species of common birds not migrating as far south as they used to with warming climates over the last 60 years.

MACOMB COUNTY — Western Macomb County’s 38th Christmas bird count released its official summary report Jan. 8 with, unsurprisingly, lower results than usual, given poor weather conditions, although several all-time highs were set.

Despite heavy snow all day and temperatures ranging from 15-23 degrees Dec. 14, 35 people in the field and another seven at feeders participated to count 53 species and a total of 9,702 individual birds.

The count experienced its lowest total number since the year 2000 (9,430 birds), said western Macomb County Christmas bird count compiler Barb Baldinger. In 2012, the group identified 69 species and 16,159 individual birds.

Despite the low, high counts were set for three species: 129 wild turkeys, 22 eastern screech owls and two barred owls. A high count was tied for one species — four swamp sparrows.

“Bad weather was undoubtedly responsible for the new low counts for red-tailed hawk at 29 and rock pigeon at 218,” Baldinger said.

Birders split into 10 groups to cover a 15-mile-diameter portion of Macomb County centered around 24 Mile and Romeo Plank roads. They clocked a total of 86.5 hours and 559.5 miles walked or driven from 7 a.m.-5 p.m.

Afterward, they convened at the Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center to draft an unofficial count, as well as enjoy a hot potluck dinner and exchange stories.

The Christmas bird count is organized globally by the National Audubon Society from Dec. 14-Jan. 5. At 114 years, it is the longest-running citizen science survey in the world and provides critical data on population trends, according to the National Audubon Society website.

Long-time Christmas Bird Count Director Geoff LeBaron said the results for 2014 would probably not be available until early summer and that year-to-year weather variance can throw off trends, so the National Audubon Society focuses more on results from decade to decade.

LeBaron said over the last 60 years, two-thirds of common species — such as purple finches and flickers — are not migrating as far south as they used to, since there is less snow cover and more open ground. Some species, he said, migrated as far as 200 miles north from the “center of abundance.”

While some more adaptable species are thriving, he said others who have specialized needs, such as a specific breeding cycle, are showing declines.

He added that a comeback in populations of bald eagles and several species of waterfowl have derived from conservation efforts aided by awareness brought on by the Christmas bird count.

In terms of change, LeBaron said the National Audubon Society aims to protect important bird areas, such as grasslands, which are likely to change in the near and distant future with expansion in development and agriculture.

He said the program grows every year because it offers an opportunity for beginners and experts to engage in citizen science, socialize and learn about ornithology.

Complete results for the 2013 Western Macomb Christmas bird count can be found at www.macombaudubon.org. For more information about the count or to view national totals, visit www.birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count. Baldinger said this year’s count would take place Dec. 20.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at swojcik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.