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Annual Christmas Bird Counts add to knowledge of bird population trends

Photo by USFWS • A total of 15 pileated woodpeckers were counted on the recent Christmas Bird Counts conducted in Roan Mountain and Elizabethton by the Elizabethton Bird Club. The pileated is the region’s largest woodpecker. Sixteen of these woodpeckers were found on the Elizabethton Christmas Bird Count. Six Pileated Woodpeckers were found on the Roan Mountain CBC.

By Bryan Stevens

The first Christmas Bird Counts were conducted on Christmas Day (Dec. 25) 1900. The annual census arose from a proposal made by famed ornithologist Frank M. Chapman. According to Audubon.org, these yearly counts, conducted throughout the country, have provided a wealth of data over the past century. 

Observations made due to CBCs have helped Audubon researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, the data provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.

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The Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society, otherwise known as the Elizabethton Bird Club, has a long history of participation in the annual Christmas Bird Count. In fact, the club has conducted two different counts — one for Elizabethton and another for Roan Mountain — for decades. The 2021 CBC marked 79 unbroken years in conducting a CBC for Elizabethton. The club has also conducted 69 Roan Mountain CBCs, but inclement weather on the unpredictable Roan has forced cancellation of this annual count on a few occasions.

Many of the birds found on these two winter surveys can also be found throughout other counties in Northeast Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

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The 79th consecutive Elizabethton Christmas Bird Count was held Saturday, Dec. 18, with 27 observers in seven parties. Counters tallied 69 species of birds, which is below the recent 30-year average of 73 species. The all-time high was 85 species counted in 2017.

The weather on count day, light rain for much of the day, contributed heavily to the lower total. Few ducks due to a mild season also was a factor.

Notably absent were species such as Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Palm Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle and Brown-headed Cowbird. Several species were found in low numbers, also largely due to the rain.

 The list for the Elizabethton CBC follows:

Canada goose,  562; Mallard, 162; redhead, 11; ring-necked duck, 1; bufflehead, 179.

Wild turkey, 31; common loon, 2; pied-billed grebe, 7; horned grebe, 20; and great blue heron, 19.

Black vulture, 1; sharp-shinned hawk, 2; Cooper’s hawk, 10; bald eagle, 3; red-shouldered hawk, 1; red-tailed hawk, 4; and American kestrel, 12.

Killdeer, 3; Wilson’s snipe, 1; ring-billed gull, 1; rock pigeon, 329; Eurasian collared-dove, 1; and mourning Dove, 205.

Eastern screech-owl, 4; great horned owl, 1; barred owl, 1; and belted kingfisher, 14.

Red-bellied woodpecker, 36; yellow-bellied sapsucker, 12; downy woodpecker, 25; hairy woodpecker, 6; Northern flicker, 23; and pileated woodpecker, 16; 

Eastern phoebe, 16; blue jay, 182; American crow,  373; and common raven,  6.

Carolina chickadee,  145; tufted titmouse,  99; white-breasted nuthatch, 13; red-breasted nuthatch, 1; and brown creeper, 4.

Winter wren,  6; Carolina wren,  110; golden-crowned kinglet, 29; ruby-crowned kinglet, 20; Eastern bluebird, 128; hermit thrush, 4; and American robin,  443.

Gray catbird, 1; brown thrasher, 3; Northern mockingbird, 69; Eurasian starling, 1,110; cedar waxwing, 120; orange-crowned warbler, 1; and yellow-rumped warbler, 176.

Eastern towhee, 13; chipping sparrow,  3; field sparrow, 19; fox sparrow, 1; song sparrow, 193; swamp sparrow,  3; white-throated sparrow, 62; dark-eyed junco,  48; and Northern cardinal,  176

Red-winged blackbird, 5; house finch, 57; American goldfinch, 83; and house sparrow, 16.

Observers for this count were  Fred Alsop, Rob Armistead, Judith Baird, Jerry Bevins, Tammy Bright, Kevin Brooks, Cade Campbell, Debi and J. G. Campbell, Catherine Cummins, Harry Lee Farthing, Dave Gardner, David and Connie Irick, Rick and Jacki Knight, Roy Knispel, Vern Maddux, Tom McNeil, Brookie and Jean Potter, Pete Range, Judi Sawyer, Bryan Stevens, Kim Stroud, Scott Turner and Charlie Warden.

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The 69th Roan Mountain Christmas Bird  Count was held Sunday, Dec. 19, with seven observers in three count parties participating in the event.

The participants tallied 53 species, well above the recent 30-year average of 46 species. The all-time high on this count was 55 species found in 1987.

 The weather was slightly better than the day before on the Elizabethton CBC, but conditions remained overcast with occasional periods of mist, with colder and breezy periods. 

Observers for the Roan Mountain CBC were Fred Alsop, Kevin Brooks, Cade Campbell, Rick Knight, Roy Knispel, Tom McNeil and Judi Sawyer.

The list for the Roan Mountain CBC follows:

Canada goose, 77; American black duck,  9; mallard, 1; bufflehead, 23; hooded merganser, 3; and pied-billed grebe, 2.

Great blue heron, 2; black vulture, 9; turkey vulture, 50; red-tailed hawk, 2; and American  kestrel, 1.

Rock pigeon, 33; mourning dove, 42; barred Owl, 2; and belted kingfisher, 5.

Red-bellied woodpecker, 7; yellow-bellied sapsucker, 7; downy woodpecker, 6; Northern flicker, 5; and pileated woodpecker, 6.

Eastern phoebe, 11; blue jay, 41; American  crow, 256; and common raven, 20.

Carolina chickadee, 61; tufted titmouse, 25; red-breasted nuthatch, 20; white-breasted nuthatch, 18; and brown creeper, 3.

Winter wren, 1; Carolina wren, 31; golden-crowned kinglet, 15; ruby-crowned kinglet, 1; Eastern bluebird, 21; hermit thrush, 3; American  robin, 332; Northern mockingbird, 5; European starling, 121; cedar waxwing, 13; and yellow-rumped warbler,  1.

Eastern towhee, 3; field sparrow, 40; fox sparrow, 1; song sparrow, 116; swamp sparrow, 3; White-throated Sparrow, 5; dark-eyed junco, 150; and Northern cardinal, 48. 

House finch, 34; red crossbill, 5; pine siskin, 2; American  goldfinch, 31; and house sparrow, 4.