Great Backyard Bird Count

The 2019 Great Backyard Bird Count in a Tough Winter

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The 2019 Great Backyard Bird Count in a Tough Winter

We always look forward to participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). This year we kept close watch at the bird feeders at both Madison Audubon residences at Goose Pond Sanctuary on Monday, February 18, the last of the four-day time period. The Martins also counted birds at feeders at their cabin (Wildland) north of Rio in Columbia County on Sunday, February 17.

The GBBC gives us a snapshot of bird usage at our feeders in late winter. Despite the name, birds can also be counted and reported from anywhere, not just backyards. Nine of the 14 species observed at three feeders were in the top 10 species recorded world-wide in 2018 (see spreadsheet below).

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Factors contributing to the higher species count and higher number of individuals included more diverse the habitat, the number and types of feeders, and the variety of seeds present.  We find that the best seeds for us are black-oil sunflowers, medium sunflower chips, white millet, and suet. This year our sunflower chip feeders were new Wild Birds Unlimited Eco-clean feeders, which reduce disease transmission when birds congregate in high densities. 

On Thursday afternoon, February 21, GBBC reports were still being entered but at that time, world-wide totals included 178,200 (160,000 in 2017) checklists, 6,293 (6,031) species, and 28,700, 000 (25,300,000) birds counted as part of the event. This is an impressive number that reflects the amount of people interested in birds, and more people participated this year than last. In Wisconsin, bird watchers submitted 2,454 (2,400) checklists and reported 115 (121) species.

Last year we had good numbers of common redpolls and pine siskins, which are very uncommon this year in southern Wisconsin. The eight turkeys at the Wildland cabin were feeding on sunflowers at the bird feeders and on apples in the orchard. The Goose Pond wildlife food plot of sorghum and sunflowers is helping 250 tree sparrows and 25 ring-necked pheasants make it through the winter.

Shelter is another critical need for birds in the winter. The Kampen Road residence contains an “old growth” Norway spruce windbreak and mature pines, and spruces on the neighbor’s land at the Martin’s cabin provide birds with ideal winter roosting cover. Nine years ago at the Kampen Road residence we planted Norway spruce, white cedar, red osier dogwoods, apples and crab apples. These plantings offer additional cover and also serve as a windbreak.

The Kamepn Road residence windbreak offers important shelter for birds and other wildlife. Photo by Mark Martin

The Kamepn Road residence windbreak offers important shelter for birds and other wildlife. Photo by Mark Martin

We are planning on planting more woody species this year and encourage others to provide habitat around their residences.  In addition to creating cover for the birds, the trees help stop the wind and reduced energy costs.

Thanks to everyone that feed birds already. If you live in suitable habitat we encourage you to start feeding them as well. A friend mentioned the importance of feeding the birds and asked us “how would you like to go to the store in winter and find the shelves empty.” The color and variety of species brighten our winter days, and make us feel good knowing that we can provide them with quality habitats and nutritious food.

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The winter weather has been tough on other birds as well. On Wednesday January 30, Jerry Schulz who works at the UW Arlington Research Farms was driving on Goose Pond Road when he saw an eagle in the road "jumping up and down" close to the Manthe farm. As he approached he could see an adult eagle, and it appeared the eagle had just killed a snowy owl. The adult eagle flushed carrying the owl. That day felt like the arctic with a low of - 30 degrees and a high of -12 with -50 wind chill. Snowy owls can withstand the weather, but we have no idea why the eagle was able to take the owl or why the owl was in this location. It is possible that the owl had been hit by a vehicle or had health problems. It is sad to lose one of our feathered friends, and very surprising to learn of this report.

Written by Mark Martin and Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers

2018 Great Backyard Bird Count

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This year marks the 20th Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon, Bird Studies Canada, and eBird. Over 160,000 people across the globe spend a chilly February weekend (this year: Feb. 16-19) simultaneously taking a snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds by counting and submitting online the number of species and individual birds they find in their yards. It’s a fun and comfortable way to participate in citizen science, especially during 2018 -- the Year of the Bird!

Snowy owl, photo by Monica Hall

Snowy owl, photo by Monica Hall

Mark Martin and Sue Foote-Martin, who are year-round residents and managers at Goose Pond Sanctuary, have participated in the GBBC since 2001. Maddie Dumas, Goose Pond land steward, is in her second year of GBBC. Birds can also be counted and reported from anywhere, not just backyards. For example, Mark and Curt Caslavka, longtime friend and volunteer at Goose Pond Sanctuary, reported a snowy owl on Feb.16, seen across Highway County I directly west of Jill’s Prairie.

Each year brings the regular characters to the count: blue jays, black-capped chickadees, tree sparrows. Some years bring unusual faces, like ring-necked pheasants, and some years bring bumper crops of other species. This year, thanks to the GBBC, we have a new record of 110 common redpolls for Goose Pond Sanctuary, surpassing the record of 50 birds seen by Aaron Stutz in 1997. The high count in Wisconsin for common redpolls was a flock of 150 in Langlade County.  

House finches (with the red faces and breasts) and common redpoll (with the red cap) feasting during the GBBC. Photo by Maddie Dumas

House finches (with the red faces and breasts) and common redpoll (with the red cap) feasting during the GBBC. Photo by Maddie Dumas

We kept close watch of the bird feeders at both Goose Pond residences on Monday, February 19, the last day of the four-day Great Backyard Bird Count. Mark and Sue were surprised to see a large flock of winter finches flying back and forth from the spruce windbreak to the ash trees in the Kampen Road residence and identified them as common redpolls. The flock stayed high up in the spruce and only one redpoll was seen at the sunflower fine feeders.

The Martins also checked their feeders at their cabin (Wildland) north of Rio in Columbia County. The habitat around the cabin consists of restored prairie, oak savanna and wetland. This setting provided the greatest diversity of bird species (see spreadsheet), totaling 19 as compared to 6 species at the Kampen Road residence and 9 species at the Prairie Lane residence.

Goldfinch (top left), common redpoll (bottom center), and pine siskins (all the rest) converge on one feeder at Wildland. Photo by Mark Martin

Goldfinch (top left), common redpoll (bottom center), and pine siskins (all the rest) converge on one feeder at Wildland. Photo by Mark Martin

The Goose Pond residences are in an open landscape with few trees and restored prairie within one half mile of a wildlife food plot of sunflowers and sorghum.  The food plot helps attract birds to the area.  Mourning doves, American tree sparrows, common redpolls, and American goldfinches have been in the food plot since December and move back and forth to the residences.

Ring-necked pheasants are uncommon in the GBBC and Maddie found a pair feeding at her feeders. Good numbers of mourning doves and American tree sparrows were found at all three residences. Pine siskins are also more common in Wisconsin this winter and have been feeding in high numbers at the Wildland feeders for many weeks.

Factors contributing to the higher species count and higher number of individuals included more diverse habitat, the number and types of feeders, and the variety of seeds present. We find that the best seeds for us are black-oil sunflowers, sunflower fines, white millet, and suet. Nine of the 20 species observed at three feeders were in the top 10 species recorded world-wide in 2017 (see spreadsheet).

On Thursday afternoon, February 22 GBBC reports were still being entered.  Thursday totals included 160,000 checklists, 6,031 species and 25,300,000 birds counted. This is an impressive number that reflects on the number of people interested in birds. In Wisconsin, birdwatchers submitted 2,400 checklists and reported 121 species.

Downy woodpeckers munching on suet. Photo by Mark Martin

Downy woodpeckers munching on suet. Photo by Mark Martin

We really enjoy counting birds and participating in the GBBC that gives us a snapshot of bird usage at our feeder in late winter. Thanks to everyone that feeds the birds, and if you live in suitable habitat we encourage you to begin feeding the birds. Winter feeding, in particular, can make the difference in helping some species make it through cold and snowy weather. The color and variety of species brighten our winter days and make us feel good knowing that we can provide them with quality habitats and nutritious food.  

P.S.  This time of year is a good time to start thinking about planting native shrubs and plants for wildlife habitat in your yard! Check out this list of nurseries that sell Wisconsin native plants and offer lots of resources like catalogs, planting recommendations, and more. Dream big and make your yard a little haven for birds (you’ll be making it a haven for lots of other great wildlife as a byproduct, too!).

Written by Mark Martin and Susan Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers, and Maddie Dumas, land steward

Header photo: Common redpoll, by Emily Meier

 

Featured Sanctuary Bird: Mourning dove

Featured Sanctuary Bird: Mourning dove

Mourning doves are one of Wisconsin’s most abundant and widespread bird species, with the continental population estimated to be over 400 million. As Goose Pond Sanctuary’s most numerous winter bird species, mourning doves were well-represented on the Great Backyard Bird Count, with a high of 117. Numbers were even greater at the end of February, with about 180 being counted.