The Great Backyard Bird Count: Viewing Results Leads to Interesting Questions

By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle

The dark-eyed junco landed on more checklists in the state of Washington for the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count than any other bird. The next GBBC will take place February 18-21. (Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle)

It’s almost time for an important annual birdwatching tradition, the Great Backyard Bird Count.

The results from past Bird Counts, 1998 through 2010, are available online. I spent a couple of hours last night poking through the data and came up with more questions than answers.

As Laurie Dils, an Olympia bird watcher that I interviewed for an upcoming feature on the event, said, “I’m learning so much more about my little chickadee group, learning about their behavior as I stop to count them.”

It is interesting to read about the bird counts and investigate what birds others around me or across the country are seeing at their own backyard bird feeders.

GBBC data is organized on the website by state, city, bird species and in many other ways. They show “top ten lists” from 1998 through 2010.

I found it interesting to note that in the state of Washington last year the dark-eyed junco landed on more checklists than any other bird. Out of the 2,467 checklists submitted, 1,643 of them included a junco.

More American crows were counted — 175,973 — but only the crow only made it to 984 of the checklists. And only 587 people turned in bird counts that included the European starling.

It makes me wonder, do people ignore the common (and often maligned) crows and starlings in their bird counts in favor of the more petite and beloved songbirds?

Washington birders reported seeing an average of 10 birds in a flock of juncos, and an average of 2 spotted
towhees per report. That all makes sense, considering the fact that a junco is a bird that likes to travel in flocks, and the towhee likes to pair off and live in a closely protected territory.

In the Lewis County area, Napavine led the way with seven birders turning in checklists, Rochester was a close second with six, Centralia and Winlock turned in four each. Adna and Curtis made three reports, Chehalis, Packwood and Randle submitted two checklists apiece and my little community of Cinebar had one lone reporter.

Look up the results for pine siskins in our area and you’ll see that Cinebar and Napavine seemed to corner the market on the voracious, friendly flocks, averaging 25 birds to a flock. But in the other communities there is a paltry showing of two.

As I’ve said before, I see pine siskins or I see them not at all at my own feeders. So it makes me wonder, do they have a large route that they follow? Hitting feeders and cleaning them out along the way as they make their way around the county? Maybe they send out a pair of them to scout the way and find the feeders with the finest fare and that accounts for the low numbers in the cities to the north?

The Adna reporters concentrated on a few interesting species — the tundra swan, snow goose, American kestrel and killdeer — while the counters in Curtis submitted a huge variety of species in their count, a whopping 18 different birds made their list.

The GBBC Top-10 lists are a fun way to highlight the count’s extremes and give you a great overall view of bird populations across the country.

In terms of overall numbers of birds counted, the American robin led the way by a huge margin with 1,850,082 individuals reported. The Canada goose was a distant second with reports of 748,356 birds. Snow goose, American crow, and European starling all came in with about 500,000 individuals each.

Washington state ranked fifth overall in the numbers of different species counted at 203. The only states that had more variety were southeast or southwestern states. We were also placed at an impressive fifth place for the sheer numbers of birds counted at 517,478.

For more information on the GBBC, go to www.birdsource.org/gbbc/.

The American robin

Nationwide, the American robin was far and away the most numerous bird counted during the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count. In the state of Washington, the American robin is a distant second place behind the American crow.

American crows

Washington State backyard birders counted more American crows in the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count than any other species. A grand total of 175,973 crows were counted. The American robin came in a distant second place at 73,172.

The tiny pine sisken

The tiny pine sisken is often seen in large groups. During the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count, four backyard birders from Napavine reported seeing a total of 114 siskens. A bird counter in Cinebar reported seeing a flock of 21. Centralia reported four and Chehalis bird counters only reported seeing two pine siskins.

Kimberly Mason can be reached online at kz@tds.net.

About the Bird Count

By The Chronicle

The Great Backyard Bird Count, coming Feb. 18-21, is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the United States.

Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts.

Watch The Chronicle’s Outdoors section for a deeper look at the event as it draws closer.