Audubon survey in IM area reveals 36 bird species; raptors generally scarce

IRON MOUNTAIN — The 2021 Audubon Christmas Bird Count for the Iron Mountain area again provided a snapshot of what avian species are spending the early winter here — and what might be conspicuously absent or rare.

With the count generally centered on one day — Dec. 18 — it’s inevitable that some birds known to be around will elude being seen, especially since the number of observers was down from 29 to 24 this year. No one got a glimpse, for example, of a rough-legged hawk, a regular visitor from the Arctic that I already had photographed in late 2021. Raptors were scarce in general, with only six bald eagles, two red-tailed hawks and one Cooper’s hawk, along with a broad-winged hawk (more on that later).

Yet the day yielded 36 species, up from 34 in 2020, even as the 1,378 individuals counted overall was down, according to Phyllis Carlson, coordinator of the local CBC.

Most of what was seen made sense for December in the Upper Peninsula: 213 mallard ducks, 186 European starlings, 144 rock pigeons, 145 mourning doves, 115 black-capped chickadees, 111 wild turkeys, 76 American goldfinches, 67 blue jays, 48 American crows, 43 dark-eyed juncos, 23 common ravens and white-breasted nuthatches, 10 red-breasted nuthatches. The common black, white and red woodpecker species — downy, hairy and pileated — were represented, along with red-bellied and, increasingly, red-headed.

But as tends to happen each year, surprises can turn up. For the 2021 count, the unexpected birds included seven hooded merganser ducks; the broad-winged hawk, a species that normally migrates en masse to Central and South America in the fall; eight trumpeter swans; and one of this winter’s wandering snowy owls, which actually matched the number of great-horned and barred owls seen Dec. 18, Carlson reported, though she noted the previous year’s count yielded no owls.

But perhaps most noteworthy in the 2021 count were 20 pine grosbeaks, more than the downy or hairy woodpeckers tallied, even outnumbering the 19 northern cardinals.

It’s an indication pine grosbeaks may be this winter’s signature visiting finch, similar to evening grosbeaks last year. In contrast, the local 2021 CBC had only one evening grosbeak, along with nine purple finches, two house finches and two pine siskins.

This was predicted to be a quiet year for winter finches, so the pine grosbeaks popping up in the region are a bonus.

The effort is part of the National Audubon Society’s 122nd annual 24-hour “bird census” within designated areas in the U.S., Canada, and many countries in the Western Hemisphere. Data gathered is analyzed to gauge how avian populations might be expanding their numbers and range, or losing ground.

It makes the CBC a significant “citizen scientist” event, said Ryan Brady, Natural Heritage Conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“The Christmas Bird Count provides our best snapshot of early winter populations and has long been the prominent source of data on population trends for species that summer in remote northern habitats, such as northern shrikes, snowy owls and common redpolls,” Brady said. “Just as importantly, in a typical year it’s a very social event and great excuse to get outside for some fun during the colder months.”

The next such bird-census effort will be the 25th annual Great Backyard Bird Count set for Feb. 18-21. While the Christmas Bird Count must be filed through a local coordinator like Carlson, the Great Backyard Bird Count can be done by individuals, by filing the information online.

For more information on the 2022 Great Backyard Bird Count, go to www.birdcount.org.


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