Christmas Bird Count

121st Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count - 2020 wrap-up

[See the bar below for results from the 121st CBC in South Butler]

Two hundred and sixteen hardy people participated in the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count on December 26, 2020.  The annual count is hosted and coordinated by Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania and always occurs on the Saturday after Christmas. 

Count day looked a bit different than it had in previous years, because of the pandemic.  All area leaders were instructed to eliminate gathering locations and group activities, and to ask participants to wear masks and social distance during the count, even while in the field.  The pandemic probably pushed a few more participants indoors this year, 67 people watched feeders, but a whopping 174 still ventured outdoors for a portion of count day.      

Weather for count day was cloudy and frigid.  The temperature ranged from 14 to 22 degrees at the count’s geographic center in Shaler Township.  It was breezy too, with wind speeds up to 15 miles per hour, which made it feel even colder.  Open water was partly frozen, rivers and streams were unfrozen.           

Despite being cold, conditions were ideal for the bird count.  Snow blanketed the ground, making viewing conditions ideal.  Overall species diversity was high, with 78 species found.  Our 10-year average is 73.  A few species are now regularly found, pushing our 10-year average upward. 

These include almost annual Turkey Vulture, Northern Raven, Fish Crow, Eastern Towhee and Chipping Sparrow.  Each of these were unlikely on this count just a decade ago. 

A total of 24,522 birds were counted on count day.  For the most part, individual numbers fluctuated around their 10-year averages.  A few birds were found in high numbers – their highest in recorded history during this count.  Most notable is Tundra Swan, with a high count of 344 individuals.  Several flocks were seen overhead, ranging from 60 to well over 100 individuals.      

This is an eruption year for winter finches.  These are species that move southward during years of diminished cone seed availability in the northern boreal forests.  Our species diversity was boosted a bit, with Red-breasted Nuthatch and Pine Siskin being widely detected, as well as a single Evening Grosbeak, found in North Park. Although only one Grosbeak was recorded on count day, the location has been hosting upwards of 30 birds recently. 

On the flip side, a few species, such as Black Scoter and Baltimore Oriole were also recorded – both of these species are expected to be wintering well outside of our region.              

Audubon Society of Western PA would like to thank each of the 216 participants that contributed to the count this year.  We are thankful that you joined us!  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, and undoubtedly more accurate.                        



121st South Butler CBC recap

The 10th South Butler CBC concluded on January 2nd, 2021, and making it our most successful count yet.First off we set a new participation record with 98 people taking part (55 in the field, 43 feeder watchers) which is a near 40 person increase from last year’s count. We counted 54 species and 9,605 individual birds which is right on average for us.

The weather itself lent itself to being relatively mild for early January (mid-30’s to 40) with overcast skies and very damp conditions. Unfortunately the warmer weather caused us to miss a number of birds that had been showing up the previous week due too the cold and snow.

Not surprising was our number one bird counted was the invasive European Starling for the top spot in every single count since 2012. And given the warm winter (and warming climate in general), Canada Geese and Mallards showed up very high once again in the counts, as did other southern species like Carolina Chickadees/hybrids (45), Northern Flickers (18), Red-bellied Woodpeckers (110) and Carolina Wrens (84) and a first ever lone Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

We did get small numbers of the irruptive winter birds (Purple Finches, Pine Siskin, and Red-breasted Nuthatch) but missed out on Evening Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls.

The most exciting in the count was the confirmation of not one, or two, but three individual Red-headed Woodpeckers, which is a first and fantastic! Loved seeing pictures of these guys overwintering in our area from a once-common species. Pileated Woodpecker numbers continue to grow though we continue to see declining number of American Tree Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows. This trend is range-wide and has been shown across a number of other CBC counts.

Lastly, Golden-crowned Kinglet numbers were record low for this count (8), and seems to be a trend across Pennsylvania. We're not sure why but it's an interesting trend for this winter and one that needs watching.

This was indeed a record breaking year for the CBC count circles that ASWP administers. Between the Buffalo Creek CBC (36 observers), Pittsburgh CBC (216 observers) and South Butler CBC (98 observers), Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania put 350 birders out in the field this count year. This puts ASWP as one of the top chapters in all of North America for participants.



2019 Count Information

120th Christmas Bird Count Summary for Pittsburgh - 2019

228 participants participated in the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count on December 28, 2019.  The annual count is hosted and coordinated by Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania and always occurs on the Saturday after Christmas. 

Weather for count day was cloudy and mild.  The temperature ranged from 38 to 46 degrees at the count’s geographic center in Shaler Township.  Water was completely open on all lakes, rivers and streams, as temperatures were consistently mild during the days surrounding the count.         

The weather was not ideal for a bird count.  Birds were seemingly capable of finding plenty of natural food sources, and feeder count numbers were low.  73 species were found on the count.  Our 10-year average is 72.  A few species are now regularly found, pushing our 10-year average upward.  These include almost annual Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Northern Raven, Fish Crow, and Eastern Towhee.  Each of these were unlikely on this count just a decade ago. 

A total of 28,061 birds were counted on count day.  For the most part, individual numbers fluctuated around their 10-year averages.  A few birds were found in high numbers – their highest in recorded history during this count.  These include Pileated Woodpecker (51), Blue Jay (870), Common Raven (7) and Carolina Wren (431).    

Anecdotally speaking, after two mild winters, the weather trend may be influencing some of the findings this year.  Many participants commented on the large flights of American Robins that they saw during the count.  Although they seemed to be abundant, their numbers were very average.  Robins were most likely concentrated in areas with ample winter fruit, making them seem plentiful.  However, when combined with species such as Hermit Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Eastern Towhee, and Red-winged Blackbird, all of which were found this year, it would seem that our woodlots are supporting a larger than normal diversity of wintering birds.         

Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania would like to thank each of the 228 participants that contributed to the count this year.  We are thankful that you joined us!  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, and undoubtedly more accurate. 

2018 count information

Christmas Bird Count 2018 wrap up:

Audubon’s 2018 Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) are in the books.  During the month of December, hundreds of volunteer citizen scientists came together to find and compile a list of birds found within our region’s predetermined count circles. 

Highlights from this year include:

  • A Gadwall found in a small wetland in Harmar
  • A Snow Goose was found in a cemetery in Pittsburgh
  • A record 7 Red-breasted Mergansers on the Allegheny River
  • The American Crow, Fish Crow and Common Raven were all found on the count day

The CBC program, in its 119th year, helps to shed light on local bird populations, expanding or retreating ranges of birds, and even how environmental factors may influence trends in bird demographics.  The CBC was developed near the turn of the last century as an alternative to the annual bird hunt, that was conducted around Christmas time.  Today, the CBC is the long-running and most inclusive data set on the continent.

In western Pennsylvania, several CBCs are conducted during the month of December.  Each count is conducted during a specific 24-hour period, and within a specific 15-mile diameter circle.  With data dating all the way back to 1910, the Pittsburgh count is by far the oldest count in the region.  The Pittsburgh count was conducted on December 29th, 2018.  228 participants took part, which is the highest number of participants to date for this count.  Within the Pittsburgh circle, which stretches from Schenley Park in the south, to North Park in the north; and from Kilbuck Township in the west, to Harmar in the east, participants spent a combined 433 party-hours, traveled 267 miles on foot, and 314 miles by car tallying birds.  A grand total of 24,877 birds were recorded, representing 71 species. 

Because of the large degree of participation, which contributes to a complete census of birds within the count circle, and the substantial amount of data contained in its history, the Pittsburgh CBC it is a good source from which to make comparisons of today’s bird numbers, versus bird numbers from yesteryear.

Some of the most obvious data comes when unusual bird species are found during the count. 
Gadwall and Snow Goose are species that have been recorded on the count in the past. But the most recent Gadwall was found in 1994.  We have to rewind all the way to 1988 to find the previous Snow Goose record.

Record high counts of birds are normally very easy to detect from year to year too.  Red-breasted Mergansers have been found sporadically throughout the last couple of decades.  They winter along the coasts, but can be found on area lakes and rivers when they are not frozen.  This year, 7 were found on the Allegheny River, setting a new record high for the count. 

Similarly, Turkey Vultures continue to be found on the Christmas count.  Just 15 years ago,
Turkey Vultures were not even considered a possibility for the count.  They are a migrant species that traditionally wintered in states south of Pennsylvania.  And while most continue to migrate south, the species’ winter range is expanding north to include southwestern PA.  45 Turkey Vultures were tallied this year, falling just one individual short of tying the record.   

17 Great-horned Owls ties the record for the most found during the count, set back in 1999. 

11,126 American Crows were counted this year at their roost in Oakland.  It is believed that there may be a secondary roost somewhere in Pittsburgh, which would explain the reason for a significant decrease in the individual numbers for this species.  The high count was set in 2013 with a total of 32,913 individuals.  American Crows roost colonially in winter, and are believed to select their roost locations based on factors that reduce predation while they rest.  Counting them at their roost is an accurate way of determining overall numbers in a region. 

In addition to American Crow, Fish Crow and Common Raven were found on count day.  This marks the 6th year in a row that we have tallied all 3 corvid species in the Pittsburgh count circle.

Similarly, December’s count marks the 10th year in a row that we have found Winter Wren.  4 were detected for the count.  

The tremendous amount of rain throughout the year has resulted in significant amount of natural food resources in our forests.  This likely contributed to the impressive 576 Cedar Waxwings that were found during the count.  They are being found regularly as they feed on available fruits in our area.  Although not a record setting number, these findings were second to only 2007, when 778 individuals were found.

Many changes in nature happen in cyclical patterns.  A good example is acorn mast from oak trees.  We experience seasons when there are literally tons of acorns, and others when there are very few acorns.  Much like oaks, conifers and birches go through these same cycles.  When seed production is low, birds such as Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, Evening Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls depart the northern forests and move south in search of food resources.  In early winter, reports came from the northern forests of pine seed and birch seed shortages.  Therefore, it was expected that our Christmas Bird Count data would reflect an increase in the northern finch species.  Surprisingly, that did not happen.  Only 6 Pine Siskins and only 7 Purple Finches were found during the count.  The northern birds have likely found resources farther north and have not made it far enough south to be found in our local counts. 

Audubon Society of Western PA would like to extend its appreciation to everyone that participated in the CBC’s this season.  It is only through your time and dedication that we can contribute to the understanding of our local bird populations.  We, and the birds, thank you!           

CBC general information

The success of the CBC and the availability of this data relies on people like you!

Please consider joining us for the 2020 Christmas Bird Count on December 26th.  Participation
is free and experience is not necessary. Social distancing guidelines will be followed for the count. 

Counting birds at feeders is also an important part of this count, so you don’t even have to leave your home!  Please contact your nearest leader from the list below to get started. 

To participate in the Pittsburgh Count, please contact one of the following area leaders nearest you. Find the count closest to you by clicking here.

• Fox Chapel  – Brian Shema, 412-963-6100; bshema@aswp.org  

• Franklin Park – Stacey Widenhofer, 412-741-7536; stacey@fhnc.org  

• Hampton – Brady Porter, 412-337-7397; porterb@duq.edu;   

• Indiana – Steve Gosser, 412-855-5220; smgosser@verizon.net

• Kilbuck & Ohio  – Paul Brown, 412-963-1979; pmbrown1944@gmail.com

• North Park – Meg Scanlon, 724-935-2170; latodami@yahoo.com  

• Oakmont & Harmar – David Yeany, 814-221-4361; dyeany@paconserve.org

• O’Hara – Steve Thomas, 412-782-4696; thomassj22@verizon.net

• Penn Hills & Verona – Mike Smith, 412-526-8360; skeetor72@yahoo.com

• Frick & Highland Parks – Mark VanderVen, 425-273-1786; nevrednav@gmail.com 

• City of Pittsburgh – Mike Fialkovich, 412-731-3581; mpfial@verizon.net 

• Ross & McCandless  – Bob Machesney, 412-366-7869; remach@aol.com

Additional Christmas Bird Count opportunities near Pittsburgh include:

• South Butler Count (Jan 2) - Chris Kubiak, 412-963-6100; ckubiak@aswp.org

• South Hills Count - Nancy Page, 412-221-4795

• Buffalo Creek Valley Count (Butler County) – George Reese, 724-353-9649

• Buffalo Creek Count (Washington County) – Larry Helgerman; bobolink1989@gmail.com 

• Imperial Count – Bob Mulvihill, 412-522-5729; Robert.mulvihill@aviary.org