Birding by the Numbers: the Great Backyard Bird Count

By Kimberly Mason

For The Chronicle

15 Years of Counting: Dark-Eyed Junco is Washington’s Top Bird

The four-day long Great Backyard Bird Count — one of the nation’s most popular citizen science projects — has ended. Checklists have been submitted; the species have been counted, categorized and tabulated.

What’s the word on the bird?

The Dark-eyed Junco is still number one in Lewis County and in Washington State, a title the little snowbird has held for all 15 years of the GBBC.

The Dark-eyed Junco appeared on 52 out of 72 checklists (72%) in Lewis County, a few percentage points higher than the Washington state average.

Local Lewis County feed stores may have noticed a marked increase in sales the favorite food of the Evening Grosbeak — black oil sunflower seeds. We seem to have more than our fair share of grosbeaks here, reporting a whopping 20% of the state’s total number of Evening Grosbeaks — even though Lewis County comprised less than 3% of the total number of checklists submitted.

There were many interesting birds sighted across Lewis County. Many of the more common birds counted in high numbers and some common birds that seemed to have been forgotten in the count.

It’s all up to the eyes and ears of the bird counter, the citizen scientist.

The following is a rundown of the numbers, by bird and by borough.

What Bird?

Thirteen cities and towns across Lewis County participated in the GBBC, submitting 72 checklists over four days.

Chehalis residents found the biggest variety of birds. Their lists included 38 different species.

The birds with the highest totals in Lewis County were (in order) the Dark-eyed Junco, followed by Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Mourning Doves, and then European Starlings.

The Dark-eyed Junco also appeared on the most checklists, followed by the Spotted Towhee, Steller’s Jay, the Mourning Dove, and finally, the Black-capped Chickadee (Washington state’s second most checklisted bird).

Some birds traveled in large flocks, others were counted singly or in pairs.

The Spotted Towhee was seen by 40 Lewis County listers, but rarely more than 2 at a time — although one Silver Creek bird spotter saw a total of 14 Towhees in three days.

Varied Thrushes were most often seen on their own or in pairs, except for the birder in Tenino who spotted 20 of the normally secretive bird in one day.

Where Lewis County locals saw one Grosbeak, they saw an average of 15 to 22 more at a time.

Pine Siskins were seen in large groupings, most counted flocks at 20 birds each. A Mineral counter found a flock of 86 of the tiny finches.

That Mineral resident also counted a large grouping of 26 Ring-necked Ducks and an Adna resident located a vulgarity of 50 European Starlings.

Lewis County Cities Rack Up Numbers

Chehalis reported seeing the only Benwick’s Wren and Belted Kingfisher in the Lewis County group of birders.

Cinebar counted a huge flock of 150 Mourning Doves in one day. They also saw the only Cooper’s Hawk, American Wigeon and Pacific Wrens reported in Lewis County and two of Cinebar residents found a Barn Owl (only 6 Barn Owls were reported across the state).

Tenino birders found five Virginia Rails and two Great Blue Herons, unique among Lewis County cities and towns.

Toledo birders encountered Hooded Mergansers and a Curtis counter found the only Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

A Centralia birder was one of only five checklisters across the state to find an Orange-crowned Warbler. If you want to see Black-capped Chickadees in high numbers or Anna’s Hummingbirds (at all), Centralia is the place to be.

Winlock seems to be the home of the Bushtit, they were the only city to spot them and they found them in large numbers.

Rochester boasts the largest flock of Red-breasted Nuthatches with 12.

An Adna observer listed only eleven species in two days, but found some of the most unusual birds. They had the only Pileated Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Gray Jay of the county.

Napavine holds the largest flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows at 26 and Onalaska is keeping three Fox Sparrows all to themselves.

Mineral’s birder found a Pie-billed Grebe, three Double-Crested Cormorants and 8 Common Mergansers, birds not reported on any other Lewis County list.

Nationwide Totals

The bird that made the most lists across the country is one we don’t see here in Washington State — the Northern Cardinal. Mourning Doves followed closely behind the cardinal, then our beloved juncos, and the elusive (at least for most Lewis County counters, there was one each spotted in Centralia and Chehalis) Downy Woodpecker stands in fourth place nationwide.

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Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer based in Cinebar. She can be contacted at kim@almostdailynews.com.

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Submit Checklists & Read Results Online

If you participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count but failed to submit your checklists, you still have time. The GBBC will be accepting checklists until March 5.

You can find the GBBC website at http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/.

If you’re new to bird watching, you might want to check out the “Learn About Birds” section. There you’ll find help with tricky bird identifications, choosing binoculars, bird feeding tips, and much more.