Dec. 29, 2001 Christmas Bird Count–South Edition

Dec. 29, 2001 Christmas Bird Count–South Edition

By Rod Myers

By Rod Myers

The second half, or South Edition, of our area’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which occurs in the southern realms of Winnebago County and a small slice of northern Ogle County, totaled 23,870 birds represented by 66 species. As usual, though, a couple of species we usually count, we missed netting. I think I’ll try it again—a few species that are usually seen were not seen. In other words, the birds recorded were due to circumstances of timing and location.

The number 28,870 topped the previous record of 20,258 set in 1996. Record numbers of many species of waterbirds appeared due to warmer weather and bodies of water that weren’t frozen over. All-time South count highs were for Canada goose, American black duck, mallard, ring-necked duck, bald eagle, wild turkey, American coot, ring-billed gull, herring gull, American crow, fox sparrow, brown-headed cowbird and American goldfinch.

Two new birds appeared in the count: a Northern shoveler and two lesser black-back gulls. Both species were seen at the quarry ponds located at the Greater Rockford Airport. The Northern shoveler is a duck that usually spends the winter in the Southwest, the Gulf coast or the Southeast coast, including the whole state of Florida. It has a bill that’s larger than its head, which it uses to filter food from water and submerged mud. The female is mostly brown, while the male has a green head, white breast and chestnut sides.

The lesser black-backed gull is a European bird that is uncommon, yet increasing in numbers on the Atlantic coast in winter. As you can imagine, they are even less numerous. The adult lesser black-backed gull has a white head that’s streaked with brown in the winter. The underparts are white, its back and wings are mostly dark gray, and its legs and feet are yellow with a reddish spot on the lower mandible near the tip of the beak.

My father and I did a car route in the vicinity of the Kishwaukee River that covered a southern portion of Winnebago County and a small parcel of northern Ogle County. We counted good numbers of some common species, but no unusual species were seen.

In my count area near Highway 39, Christmas Bird Count volunteer and wildlife videographer Bob Cole witnessed a flock of an estimated 20,000 Canada geese in a cornfield one day before the count. Beyond a doubt, it’s the warm weather that’s keeping the geese from having to go farther south.

Other notable birds seen on the count were great blue heron, red-headed woodpecker, brown creeper, white-crowned sparrow, white-throated sparrow, red-breasted nuthatch and a tundra swan seen at Bauman Park in Cherry Valley. The Audubon Christmas Bird Count has been a yearly tradition for 102 years. The count is comprised of hundreds of separate area counts throughout the United States, parts of Central America, Puerto Rico and neighboring islands. You can view the results of each of the 102 years of the Christmas Bird Count on the Internet at

The CBC shows trends in bird populations. For instance, on neo-tropical birds, those that spend the winter in Central and South America, including tropical islands, near the Americas, are declining due to habitat destruction. Other birds such as the American crow, Canada goose, and the lesser black-backed gull are increasing. Birds are beloved by many, and they are key indicators in how healthy our environment is. I look forward to doing the count next year, and stocking hats off to the rest of the count volunteers.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in nature and the environment. He is a member of the Rockford Amateur Astronomers Club, the Sinnissippi Audubon Society, Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and the Planetary Society.

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