Record bird sightings and two newly documented species were spotted during the 2020 Cortez Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 26, according to final results.
“We had a great turnout this year, and a lot of new records,” said organizer Jason St. Pierre.
New count records were set for 18 species, and four records were tied.
The winter bird count day has been held for 17 years – continuously since 2007. Daily winter counts on a day around Christmas take place nationwide, and the data is compiled by the Audubon Society.
On Dec. 26, 28 local bird-watchers spread out to survey the eight established zones within a 15-mile radius of Cortez.
“We counted a total of 9,141 individuals, which is the second-highest total following 2019’s count,” said St. Pierre, a wildlife biologist.
The 83 species viewed ties the previous record set in 2016.
Two species that had never been recorded in the survey area were the rock wren and Lincoln’s sparrow, St. Pierre said.
The rock wren and Lincoln sparrow generally do not winter in the Cortez area, but do overwinter farther south, including in Sand Canyon for the wren.
The presence of two Say’s phoebes in winter was interesting, St. Pierre said, because the birds are insectivores, and there are fewer bugs for food in the winter months. In winter, they tend to be spotted near homes and structures, where they can find spiders and other bugs sheltered from the cold.
Spotters recorded eight lesser goldfinches, also a bit unusual during winter in Cortez.
“I was surprised at the number of species we had during a cold winter,” St. Pierre said. “The lesser goldfinch is usually absent in the area at this time, so it is an indication there is a lot of food around worth staying for despite the cold nights.”
Non-native birds such as Eurasian starlings and Eurasian collared doves are becoming more common in the Cortez area and compete with native species, he said.
For example, the Eurasian starlings compete with native woodpeckers for cavity nests, and Eurasian collared doves are more aggressive and more prolific breeders than native mourning doves.
During the 1990-1993 counts, no Eurasian doves were documented during the Christmas bird count, and now they are fairly common, St. Pierre said.
The most common bird sighted was the European starling – 2,093 of them. Next were the Canada goose (1,007), dark-eyed junco (887), red-winged blackbird (847) and house sparrow (583).
Count clickers were used to tally the more common species to save time writing them down.
Thirty-two bald eagles and two golden eagles were spotted.
The new record counts included four common loons, 65 wild turkeys, 423 Eurasian collared doves, 10 downy woodpeckers, 116 northern flickers, 61 song sparrows, 23 Townsend solitaires, 32 stellar jays, 61 song sparrows, 30 spotted towhees, five red-breasted nuthatches, 17 pygmy nuthatches and 116 northern flickers.
Also this year, several backyard bird-feeder counters sent in their results. The event had limited access because of pandemic concerns, and the open-invite format was dropped.
Christmas bird counts are a form of citizen science, in which amateur naturalists and experts help contribute to a nationwide database. The annual Audubon winter bird count has been ongoing since 1900, and is the nation’s longest-running community science bird project.
The Cortez count ranges between 5,000 and 10,000 individual birds each year. In its 17-year history, Cortez birders have counted 98,800 birds representing 125 species.