Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Winter bird sightings

What species were present or absent during the Grand Rapids Audubon Bird Count on 30 Dec 2017? No gulls were seen. Only two other years during the 31 years I have coordinated the count were gulls absent in the Kent County Count area. Carolina Wrens have become regular since the turn of the century but were only seen 7 times between 1953 and 2000.

Both the White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows were rare sightings during the 1900’s but the white-throated has been sighted most of the past ten years. I suspect some sightings might have been misidentifications like the 15 Chipping Sparrows sighted in 1992. It is highly unusual for one Chipping Sparrow to be here in the winter and 15 is not likely.

Evening Grosbeaks were seen most years between 1970 and 1990 but were absent before and after those decades. Red-winged Blackbird populations were high during the 1960’s and their numbers have declined dramatically since. I conducted a spring blackbird nesting survey in 1970 and have never again seen the density of nests I found then.

Bird populations fluctuate for many reasons. Blackbirds have been sprayed with a chemical used to cause death so they do not compete with humans for crops. Climate change is impacting bird distribution and altering survival chances. Seasonal winter weather fluctuations (different from climate change) that are warm, cold, snowy, or dry influence bird annual distribution.

Fifty-six species were seen (Table 1) by forty-one field observers and 2 bird feeder watchers. One Winter Wren and one Eastern Towhee were recorded during count week. The three days before and after count day are reported separately from count day species. Count week sightings document winter presence in the area but are statistically evaluated differently from count day sightings.

Total individuals sighted was 6161. That is down considerably from last year’s 9342 and almost half the number sighted (11,246) two years ago. Travel conditions and weather were unexpectedly good. Only light snow fell in the morning and the sky cleared for the afternoon.

We experienced 80% cloud cover in the a.m. and 20% in the afternoon. Temperature was between 7 and 15 F. A steady NW wind was 8-18 mph. Snow cover depth was 4 to 12 inches. Moving Water was partly open and still water was frozen.

We totaled 65.5 hours in vehicles traveling 529 miles. 14.25 hours were spent on foot covering 16.75 miles and 9 hours at feeders. A combined total of 545.75 miles were on foot and driving. Groups totaled 88.75 hours of daytime birding. There were 16 birding parties in the morning and 10 in the afternoon with two feeder watchers.

In the predawn, eleven miles were traveled during one and half hours looking for owls.

Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) co-hosted the count with Audubon. We appreciate use of the facility as our base station. Visit and enjoy the WWC trails.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.


Bird Species Total
Date: 30 Dec 2017
Canada Goose 247
Mute Swan 24
American Black Duck 2
Mallard 456
Mallard/Black Duck Hybrid 2
Ring-necked Duck 1
Bufflehead 1
Common Goldeneye 62
Hooded Merganser 4
Common Merganser 6
Wild Turkey 181
Great Blue Heron 2
Cooper’s Hawk 8
Accipiter sp. 1
Bald Eagle 6
Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 21
Rough-legged Hawk 2
Buteo sp. 3
Rock Pigeon 196
Mourning Dove 203
Eastern Screech Owl 1
Great Horned Owl 1
Belted Kingfisher 4
Red-bellied Woodpecker 85
Downy Woodpecker 150
Hairy Woodpecker 25
Northern Flicker 13
Pileated Woodpecker 8
American Kestrel 3
Blue Jay 228
American Crow 345
Horned Lark 12
Black-capped Chickadee 440
Tufted Titmouse 162
Red-breasted Nuthatch 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 122
Brown Creeper 5
Carolina Wren 8
Golden-crowned Kinglet 5
Eastern Bluebird 100
American Robin 67
Gray Catbird 1
European Starling 422
Cedar Waxwing 274
Snow Bunting 5
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
American Tree Sparrow 172
Dark-eyed Junco 671
White-crowned Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 7
Northern Cardinal 292
House Finch 226
Purple Finch 1
Common Redpoll 1
Pine Siskin 5
American Goldfinch 451
House Sparrow 411

Total Species


Total Individuals


Count week additions

Winter Wren
Eastern Towhee