Christmas Bird Count Flies High

Each year, Riveredge helps lead the Newburg Christmas Bird Count. Dedicated volunteers spend a day counting as many bird species and individuals as they can find in our local search area. The results are sent to the National Audubon Society who compile data from around the US for the longest running citizen science project in the country. Here’s a recap of this year’s count from Mary Holleback, our Adult Programs Manager. 

December 2015 was the warmest on record in the Milwaukee area thanks to the El Nino weather pattern affecting the entire U.S. this winter.  It was also to blame or credit for many of the unusual birds seen on December 19th during our annual Christmas Bird Count.   One such sighting in the Cedarburg area (7A) was an ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD.  Yes!  I said hummingbird!  It’s only the second time in the 115 year history of the Wisconsin Christmas Bird Count that this western species has been documented.  The bird was reported and photographed by Dan Panetti, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Mequon.  He helped the home owner create a nectar feeder that wouldn’t freeze by modifying a heated bird bath.  Local bander, Mickey O’Connor, from the Milwaukee County Zoo banded the bird earlier in the season.  (See the January 2016 issue of the Badger Birder for more information about anna’s hummingbird sightings in WI).

Birders also saw seven bald eagles, the highest number ever, in our count circle.  Three of them (a family of two adults & one immature) were sighted feeding together on a carcass in the Little Kohler area.  Jeannie Lord, owner of Pineview Rehabilitation Center, stated that there was an active nest near the river this past summer.  The Natural Heritage Conservation Program has been conducting aerial surveys over Wisconsin for the past 42 years in search of eagle and osprey nests.  In 2015 they found a record number of 1,465 eagle nests, at least one nest in every county except Milwaukee and Kenosha.  Nationally, eagles and ospreys have made a big comeback since the use of DDT was outlawed in this country in the 1970’s.

Five melanistic mutant Chinese ring-necked pheasants were also reported in the same area.  These large pheasants with iridescent, greenish-black plumage are one of 49 species brought here from Asia and released for hunting purposes.  They survive and reproduce well in crop fields, wetlands, grasslands and brushy thickets. Look here for pictures and more information.

Fifty-nine field counters logged a cumulative 193 hours and 1,140 miles looking for birds.  While 34 feeder counters in 28 households put in a total of 46 hours documenting birds in their yards.  Eighteen households watched for two hours in hopes of adding additional species to their lists.  Due to the efforts of all of these birders we saw a total of 65 species and 15,337 individuals which was just a little below average for our count circle.

Prolonged warm weather enticed a few summer residents into staying longer.  Included in that group were: sandhill cranes (36- highest #), turkey vultures (3-highest #), great blue herons (3), northern flickers (8), American robins (149), belted kingfishers (4), chipping sparrows (2), fox sparrows (2), song sparrows (3), northern harriers (6), and northern flickers (8).

Birds were widely dispersed due to the lack of snow cover and mild temperatures.  We didn’t see any of these somewhat nomadic winter birds: common redpolls, lapland longspurs, snow buntings, or horned larks.  We did however encounter these common winter birds: two rough-legged hawks, 24 pine siskins, nine red-breasted nuthatches, seven brown creepers and three tufted titmice.

Clear blue skies made it easy for us to identify ten species of waterfowl, seven species of hawks, and six species of sparrows.  Only a single individual of each of the following species were found: wood duck, ring-necked duck, merlin, northern saw-whet owl (heard), northern shrike, and golden-crowned kinglet.

If you participated in or wish you could have participated in the Newburg Christmas Bird Count you may enjoy Cornell’s Great Backyard Bird Count being held February 12 – 15, 2016. Visit their website at for more information.  Then continue counting during Wisconsin’s second Breeding Bird Atlas by reporting breeding bird activities near you.  Details can be found at

Thanks to all those who participated in our annual count and start recruiting your friends to help you in the 2016 count.

Happy Birding!

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