The number of birds tallied during the annual Fifield-Park Falls Audubon Christmas Bird Count, held Dec. 14, were down from previous years — the seventh lowest count in the 54-year history of the local CBC.
A total of 10 field observers spent a combined 40.25 hours counting all birds seen or heard within a 15-mile diameter of the Fifield Post Office. They drove 309 miles of road and walked seven miles. Many people also counted birds seen at their home bird feeders.
A total of 1,021 individual birds and 24 species were counted by both field observers and feeder watchers in the 15-mile radius.
The weather for the count was overcast with temperatures ranging from 15 to 19 degrees. The winds were 0 to 5 mph from the west northwest most of the day. There were 17 inches of snow on the ground, and light snow flurries in the afternoon. Lakes were frozen, although some streams and rivers in the area remained partially open.
The species and numbers of each species observed on the 2019 Fifield-Park Falls CBC, as compared with 2018 results in parentheses:
Wild turkey, 69 (93); blue jay, 142 (64); black-capped chickadee, 167 (389); common raven, 30 (13); American crow, 65 (67); mourning dove, 81 (69); ruffed grouse, 17 (16); red-breasted nuthatch, 22 (32); brown creeper, 3 (2); rock dove, 68 (282); American bald eagle, 15 (14); hairy woodpecker, 42 (27); downy woodpecker, 37 (30); pileated woodpecker, 12 (16); American goldfinch, 99 (93); European starling, 84 (32); dark-eyed junco, 21 (16); white-breasted nuthatch, 19 (37); red-bellied woodpecker, 3 (2); northern cardinal, 7 (5); purple finch, 6 (0); sharp-shinned hawk, 1 (0); cedar waxwings, 10 (0); barred owl, 1 (0). Two other species, a varied thrush and a northern shrike, were also spotted during the count week, but not on the count day.
Bird count highlights
“Where are all the birds?” was a commonly-heard question this year from many folks who feed birds in the area. This concern was reflected in the numbers of individuals and species of birds seen in the CBC that were well below normal. This result has also been noted in early CBCs in other parts of Wisconsin.
The total number of individuals counted in the Fifield-Park Falls count, 1021, was the seventh lowest and the total number of species, 24, was the ninth lowest in the 54-year history of the count. The average number of species spotted during the count is 28 and the average number of species counted is 73.
So why are the count numbers so low? One of the major reasons is that there were few or none of the irruptive migrant species from Canada spotted during the count. These species include pine siskins, redpolls, Bohemian waxwings, pine and evening grosbeaks, red and white-winged crossbills, and snow buntings. When food supplies in Canada are poor, these species often head south looking for better sources of food, earning the name irruptive migrants. This year, they likely didn’t need to head south because there is an abundance of natural foods in their home ranges. A few of them may show up at local feeders as the winter progresses, however.
Another reason for the low count is that local birds also have an abundant supply of natural foods in field and forest including a huge conifer cone crop along with berry, oak, ash, birch, alder, and maple trees that have all produced abundant seed crops here and in the northeastern United States.
Lots of woodpeckers of a wide variety of species were seen on this year’s count. Woodpeckers — being cavity nesters protected from the frequent summer rains and from most predators — had a banner year of reproduction. They were found in abundant supply at most area bird feeders feeding on suet and peanuts along with some sunflower seeds.
Of concern was the low number of black-capped chickadees that were counted this year; only 167 compared to 389 last year and 275 the year before. The chickadee has been the most numerous species observed in the local count in past years. In contrast, blue jays are doing well, with 142 counted this year compared to only 64 last year and 76 the year before — perhaps thanks to a good acorn production year.
Another record number of American bald eagles, 15, was tallied this year. Eagles generally have been seen more frequently during winter, especially since 1997, feeding on road kills, deer entrails left by hunters, fish gleaned from open waters during recent warmer winters, and winter fish kills.
Drivers who spot road kills while driving should be especially alert since eagles taking flight may be susceptible to colliding with vehicles.
Overall, Wisconsin’s bald eagle population has grown dramatically since the 1970s when the pesticide DDT was banned. DDT is a deadly chemical to birds, especially raptors, thinning their egg shells.
Volunteer-gathered data informs broader understanding of bird populations
The Fifield-Park Falls CBC was started in 1965 by Thomas and Mary Lou Nicholls and is part of a greater effort by the National Audubon Society initiated in 1900 to monitor the health and distribution of resident and winter birds across the Western Hemisphere. Now in its 120th year, the National Audubon Society’s CBC is larger than ever, expanding its geographical range and accumulating valuable scientific data about the winter distributions of various bird species.
According to Audubon, a total of 2,615 CBCs were held in 2018; 1,974 in the United States, 460 in Canada, and 181 from the Caribbean, Latin America, and Pacific Islands.
This 100-percent volunteer generated data has become a critical part of the U.S. Government’s natural history monitoring database critical to understanding the health of bird populations.
This work is vital in monitoring the status and health of resident and migratory birds across the Western Hemisphere. The Fifield-Park Falls CBC is just one of 112 counts conducted in Wisconsin each year and the only one in Price County.
Count results from 1900 to the present are available through Audubon’s website at: www.audubon.org/bird/cbc.
Anna Maria Hansen is the compiler for the Fifield-Park Falls CBC and organized this year’s count with the assistance of Tom Nicholls and Kathy Kascewicz of Fifield. Other field counters and feeder watchers who participated in the 2019 count include: Linda Parker, Rosemary Plant, Paul and Heidi Ballagh, Steve and Elizabeth Hoecker, Sue Kartman, Karren Balzar, John Boettcher, Mary and Dave Boettcher, Mary Lou Nicholls, Tim Risch, Bill Zahn, Tim Doughty, Greg Rublee, Larry and Judie Gregg, Dorothy Haase, Marge and Bob Kleinschmidt, Karen Knight, Butch and Mary Lobermeier, Bernie Luedtke, Carol Ocker, Don Peterson, Bob and Pat Roach, Sherry Ryther, Mike Wade, Barb and Steve Wolf, Ken Carlson, Russell and Jackie Severt, Marilyn Roberts, Paula Bader, and members of the Brownie Troop 7630.