One hundred and seventy participants joined forces to tally the birds of Pittsburgh on December 31, 2016. The annual count is hosted and coordinated by Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania and always occurs on the Saturday after Christmas, hence the New Year’s Eve date. Despite the holiday, participants spent a combined 278 hours in the field and 121 at feeders.
Weather for count day was average, with a low of 24 and a high of 39 degrees measured at the count’s center, in Shaler Township. A trace amount of precipitation was measured, open water was mostly frozen while flowing water was entirely open. Wind was a factor for many, as gusts were recorded as high as 30 mph.
74 species were found on the count. Our 10-year average is 69. For the most part, individual numbers were very near their average numbers, with a few exceptions:
Mergansers were well represented, with all three species being reported. However, 6 Red-breasted Mergansers is a high count for Pittsburgh. Red-breasted, though found regularly on our waters, tends to be a coastal species, so the total is solidly above our average on count day.
A Horned Grebe was found. Only 3 other occurrences have been previously recorded for the count.
Raptors were also well represented in this year’s count. Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks were found at numbers higher than our averages, with 9 and 120 respectively. But the big surprise in raptor numbers comes with Merlin. Merlin is a bird that is found annually – an individual is often found in Schenley Park, and often by the participants in one or two other areas. But this year, 7 Merlins were found, including 3 in the city. 5 Peregrine Falcons ties a previously recorded high count. 3 Bald Eagles were reported, continuing the relatively new annual tradition of this species on the count.
The American Crow roost that has been estimated for the past decade or so has moved to Oakland. While the numbers are probably relatively consistent with previous years, the ability
to confidently estimate numbers was not. When the birds stream over areas with poor visibility, the numbers become very difficult to estimate. This was the case, with only 14,690 crows reported, down from nearly 33,000 a few years ago.
Surprisingly only 17 Red-breasted Nuthatches were found during this year’s count. With relatively large numbers of the species arriving in early winter, a higher number was expected for the count. Perhaps poor foraging conditions locally forced the birds to continue moving. Most of the 17 birds were reported from feeder watchers.
Pileated Woodpecker was reported at a higher than expected number. 48 individuals represents a new high count for Pittsburgh.
White-throated Sparrow continues to be a less abundant bird than it once was for this count. Many observers report relative difficulty in finding them. 427 individuals were counted this year, as compared to 1,200 just 20 years ago.
Although Pittsburgh isn’t too far from the traditional wintering grounds of Chipping Sparrow, we are clearly outside of the expected range. However, we continue to find the species in winter. A single Chipping Sparrow was found in Frick Park, and it reportedly continues at feeders near the center. This species has been found in 3 of the past 5 counts, with 5 individuals being found in 2011 alone.
Seven blackbirds, likely Red-winged, were a good find, as they flew over Pittsburgh. Red-winged Blackbirds have appeared on 11 of the past 30 counts. Not an annual species, but not unusual
Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania would like to thank each of the 170 participants this year. We are thankful that you joined us for the count. A special thank you to the area leaders who help compile bird numbers and participant information. Their work makes compiling the data for the count much, much easier.