Christmas Bird Counts

Clay Billman

In 2022, the National Audubon Society held its 123rd annual Christmas Bird Counts. These are one-day counts of all birds in an area defined by a circle of 15 miles diameter. The Payne County Audubon Society coordinates two of these counts: a Stillwater CBC now in its 75th year and the John Couch Sooner Lake CBC, now in its 32nd year.

The 75th annual Stillwater Christmas Bird Count took place on 17 December 2022, with 18 volunteers traveling nearly 400 collective miles in search of every duck, sparrow, and pigeon in our circle centered two miles north of RT. 51 on Redlands Rd. Volunteers reported 6,216 individuals of 106 species on the count!

The top 10 most abundant birds reported were European Starling (1705), Canada Goose (1118), Brewer’s Blackbird (936), meadowlarks (includes Eastern and Western; 846); Ring-billed Gull (818), American Robin (675), Brown-headed Cowbird (603), Cackling Goose (401), Rock Pigeon (365), and American Crow (358).

Highlights included the first ever Black-legged Kittiwake on the count, plus new high counts for Black Vulture (66), Turkey Vulture (7), Bonaparte’s Gull (65), Rock Pigeon (365), and Eurasian Collared-Dove (61). Least Sandpiper (8) tied a record set in 2016. Black Vulture was probably the biggest story: First recorded with a single individual in 2019, we found 14 in 2021 and 66 this year.

Lowlights include the absence of Hermit Thrush (previously reported on 27 counts) and Bewick’s Wren (36 counts). The lone Horned Lark reported ties a record set in 1990.

Many thanks to our volunteers this year: Holly Todaro, Kim Sloggett, Mark Miller, Mike Yough, Scott Loss, Leslie Imboden, Susan Taylor, Jim Cowley, Suzanne Cowley, Dave Latham, Doug Latham, Erin Latham, Elaine Stebler, Damona Doye, Alex Harman, Carrie Joy Pratt, Dave Londe, Jessica Torres, and to Tim O’Connell who compiled the data.

The 32nd annual John Couch Sooner Lake Christmas Bird Count took place on 26 December 2022, with 9 volunteers braving frigid wind chills in search of every gull, hawk, and blackbird in our circle centered at the intersection of routes 177 and 15 in Noble County. This was our first count in memory of this CBC’s founder and 30-year stalwart leader John Couch, who died in June 2022.

Volunteers reported 23,593 individuals of 101 species on the count!

The top 10 most abundant birds reported were Cackling Goose (4197), Red-winged Blackbird (4193), Canada Goose (3591), Common Goldeneye (1496), Mallard (1349),
meadowlarks (includes Eastern and Western; 839), European Starling (717), American Coot (611), unidentified gulls (550), and unidentified blackbirds (525).

Great finds this year were a count week White-winged Scoter, 3 Long-tailed Ducks, 11 Tundra Swans, and 3 Trumpeter Swans. We set new high records for Ross’s Goose (34), Common Merganser (106), Wilson’s Snipe (7), and Lesser Black-backed Gull (2).

Many thanks to our volunteers this year: Jess Torres, Les Imboden, Mike Yough, Tim O’Connell (compiler), Lucas Bobay, Elaine Stebler, Lelia Heading, Courtney Duchardt, and Jake Hennig.

Complete Count Results Below:

How to report your sightings following the count day(s):

It is very important that you provide us the following information:
  • How many people were in your party, including first and last names
  • How many hours you spent looking for birds
  • How many miles you drove (tip: write down your odometer start and end numbers!)
  • How many miles you walked (estimates are okay!)
Please use one of these forms to report this information: MS Word Format or PDF Format
Send completed data forms to Tim O’Connell at tim.oconnell @ within 24 hours of the count.

IF you feel like entering your data in the spreadsheet and then sending that back to me that’ll be fine. No pressure on that bit – I just want folks to know they have the option to save me some time in compiling if they’re comfortable doing that. You can find that spreadsheet here. If you just want to print out the checklist and mark it in pencil or pen, that works too: just take a couple of photos of your completed sheet and send those to me as email attachments. Easy-peasy! Finally, if you want to eBird your counts that works, too. Just go to “My Checklists” in “My eBird” to select the ones you’d like included. Under “Checklist Tools” you’ll have the option to “Email yourself” and you’ll get a version of your checklist in your inbox in just a few seconds. You can just forward those emails directly to me:

The only caveat with eBird checklists is that they won’t necessarily break out all the distance/time effort data requested by the CBC, not will they include a list of all participants, so I’ll need you to include that stuff in what you send me.

Want to bird from home? Do a feeder count!

  1. Make sure you are in the count circle, using an above map.
    1. Record your address or GPS coordinates on the data sheet.
  2. Use the same reporting form (above) as the mobile teams.
    1. You can print it, or save the Word version.
  3. Don’t forget to keep track of how long you watch your feeders!
    1. If you watch for 10 minutes every hour, add up all of your blocks of time for a total to put on the data sheet. Make sure to record that you were doing a feeder count.
  4. Don’t forget to write down how many people watch your feeders!
    1. And report their full names on the data sheet, please.
  5. On the data sheet, record the largest number of individuals of each species that you see at your feeders at one time.
    1. Example: I see 3 robins with 20 house sparrows at 10am, and 12 robins with 13 house sparrows at 2pm. On my data sheet, I record that as 12 robins and 20 house sparrows total (use the higher numbers).
  6. Don’t forget to send your completed form to tim.oconnell @ within 24 hours of the count!

Some general do’s and don’ts:

  1. DO join us for one or both counts!
  2. DON’T think you’re not good enough at counting birds to help. The CBC is a great way to get started in birding!
  3. DO report your findings, including birds, time birding, and distance covered! (see forms, above)
  4. Have fun, be safe, and good birding!

History and Purpose of the Counts

Since 1900, the National Audubon Society has operated a citizen science program aimed at counting all birds within a 15-mile diameter circle found on a pre-selected day within two weeks of Christmas Day. This is the Christmas Bird Count, and it remains one of the primary sources of information on populations of wild birds in North America.

The Payne County Audubon Society sponsors two local CBCs. The Stillwater CBC was founded in 1947 by Fred and Marguerite Baumgartner. In 1990, under the leadership of the late John Couch, we added the Sooner Lake CBC, since renamed as the John Couch Sooner Lake CBC. In 2023, the National Audubon Society will conduct the 124th annual Christmas Bird Counts; for the PCAS this will be the 76th Stillwater CBC and the 33rd John Couch Sooner Lake CBC.

Check out reports from past years here!

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