2016 Winter Bird Survey Results are in

Each year we take to the woods, the field and the pond to survey the avian life overwintering around the Science Center, and each year, for the first three years of the survey, results have fluctuated. Such is the case with general annual variation. Once this study hits thirty years, then we can start talking trends. But as long as we have variability in whether or not the pond freezes, heavy spring rains affect the growth of seed- and berry-bearing plants, etc., we will see these numbers go up and down on a year-to-year basis.

Results

On three days, counting from four points each day (the Sylvester Bridge, the Nelson bench, Woodchuck Field, the small island at Jacobs Pond), I heard or saw 176 individual birds of 19 species. In 2015, a year of heavy snowfall, I heard or saw 67 individual birds of 12 species. In 2014, the totals were 305 individual birds of 16 species. 220 of those birds were Canada Geese in one flock of 110, counted in two separate circles, one sitting on Jacobs Pond, the second as a flyover group.  Birds seen for the first time in 2016 included Bufflehead, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Mallard, Mourning Dove, bringing our study to a total of 24 species thus far; birds missing from the 2015 counts included Brown Creeper, Dark-eyed Junco and Hairy Woodpecker.

Frequency

The most frequently counted species (highest possible number being 12) were:

Species 2016 2015 2014 Change
Black-capped Chickadee 12 10 8 +2
White-breasted Nuthatch 10 6 7 +4
American Robin 8 2 8 +6

This species fell out of the “most frequently counted” list this year:

Species 2016 2015 2014 Change
Blue Jay 4 5 3 -1

Notes:  The Black-capped Chickadee is the state bird of Massachusetts, one of the most common birds in the state, and increasing in many areas. As we will see, White-breasted Nuthatches were not only frequent but abundant in 2016. American Robins are among the most widely distributed birds in the state. The dearth of any large woodpeckers (a total of 3 Red-bellied Woodpeckers were encountered in areas 3 and 4, or in Woodchuck Field or at Jacobs Pond), shows that these woods are still young. Bigger woodpeckers need bigger trees. SSNSC forest communities are still reforesting from the farming era.

Abundance

The most abundant birds (simply adding all individuals of a specific species throughout all circles, all days) were:

Species 2016 2015 2014 Change
Canada Goose 44 0 220 +44
Black-capped Chickadee 26 21 21 +5
House Sparrow 22 0 0 +22
White-breasted Nuthatch 19 8 9 +11
American Robin 12 2 12 +10
American Goldfinch 11 7 11 +4
Blue Jay 8 6 4 +2

No birds on the 2015 “most abundant” list fell off that list in 2016.

Notes: The single high count for any species in any circle was 23 Canada Geese, seen on Jacobs Pond from Woodchuck Field on January 30. I counted 16 Canada Geese flying overhead once on January 1, and 12 House Sparrows on one occasion. Beyond that, on 1 occasion I counted 6 members of the same species in any circle; 5, once; 4, three times. Aside from the Canada Geese and the House Sparrows, the species listed above are among the most common birds in Massachusetts woods.

Other Sightings of Note

On January 1 as I was standing at point 3 (near the Nelson bench in the Old Field, I heard a scurrying noise I knew was too loud for a gray squirrel. I froze and watched as a Fisher ran up a short snag, surveyed its surroundings, locked eyes with me for about ten seconds, then ran down the snag and deeper into the woods.

On January 15 as I was walking to the first point, I heard a loud thrashing in Sylvester Swamp. I turned to the right and saw a Red Fox tangled in briers attempting to extricate itself, and then running deeper into the swamp.

Conclusions

The most surprising outcome of this year’s study was the ubiquity of the White-breasted Nuthatch. The species were seen or heard on 10 of the 12 counts, and many times there were more than one. The results show that at least for the past three years, this was a bumper year for the species on Science Center grounds. Other variations between 2016 and 2015 were obvious due to the fact that the pond froze over completely in 2015, and not completely in 2016; Canada Goose numbers were up, and Mallards and Buffleheads were counted for the first time in 2016. The end of the 2015 winter count cycle also included a heavy snowfall that drove many birds off to better feeding grounds. I’ve now compiled “master lists” for frequency and abundance for quick reference of species diversity and population fluctuations.

This study is a companion to the SSNSC Breeding Bird Circle Counts, which I conducted in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and will conduct again in 2016.

The next SSNSC Winter Bird Circle Counts will commence around January 1, 2017.