Record Count for Wild Turkeys at the 2017 CBC

Wild turkeys roosted near Ricci Fields in Lincoln. Photo by Norm Levey
Wild turkeys roosted near Ricci Fields in Lincoln. Photo by Norm Levey

Norman Levey, Compiler for the Concord Christmas Bird Count, reported on the bird sightings by participants in the 2017 count.

The Concord Christmas Bird Count wrapped up its 58th count on Tuesday, January 2, 2018, with a spirited evening in the SVT Wolbach farmhouse, where our coordinators and compilers shared a delicious potluck supper and called out the list of all the birds we found the previous Saturday.

If this count was not a record maker for bird abundance, it was notable for ice, snow, and cold. Our early-rising field teams encountered 4°F temperatures that made the afternoon high of 16°F seem balmy. On the same day, counters in Fairbanks, Alaska, experienced about the same daytime temperatures as those of us at the Concord count.

Few of our field teams saw even one Canada goose, but spots of open water in the Assabet Wildlife Refuge and in Hager Pond in Marlborough (which by some miracle never totally freezes over on the coldest of count days) delivered 222 geese, 32 mute swans, 6 gadwall, 28 American black ducks, 614 mallards, a lone green-winged teal, and a lingering American coot.

We may have one record count for wild turkey, which shortly after its introduction in the Commonwealth in 1972 steadily reestablished a vigorous breeding population and made its Concord count debut in 1997 with a tally of 9. Adjusting for our possibly lower than average participation rate this year may make 319 of these iconic birds a new high. Prehistorically, the wild turkey was abundant in the state until its extirpation in 1851.

Ten great blue herons stood sentinel-like over the few remaining outflows under beaver dams and culverts, with one or two especially bedraggled individuals reported. A great blue heron will eat just about anything it can swallow, head first, but its typical summer restaurant that serves frogs, fish, turtles, voles, and large insects vanished more than a month ago. For every great blue heron, there was a belted kingfisher hunting in the same seasonally vanishing habitat.

A few dramatically dark and boldly marked red-tailed hawks with inky black belly bands, interlopers from the Canadian north, were spotted by a few field teams. Our locals are pale by comparison. Woodland dwelling red-shouldered hawks may be making a small resurgence after a few lean years with a total of 4. We’ve had recent counts of 0 and 1.

Local owls showed expected numbers except for Northern saw-whet, which except for one individual located in Wayland vanished from its winter roosts and very likely migrated to more promising snow-free hunting grounds.

Woodpecker counts hit the average, except red-bellied is still showing a steadily upward trend-line. Downy is our most abundant woodpecker, and our count of 760 hews to the 10-year average.

Falcons made the list with 1 American kestrel and a single merlin. Kestrel once tallied in double digits on our counts, but has declined to one or two individuals every year.

Common feeder birds such as cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and house finches were easily found in neighborhoods. Field parties censusing more remote wooded conservation properties turned up 244 golden-crowned kinglets—just short of 1973’s record 273—and a few red-breasted nuthatches. A school classroom feeder in Lincoln had a wintering Eastern towhee sharing a feeder with 35 house sparrows and 2 white-throateds, and another feeder hosted a ruby-crowned kinglet which are migrants and very uncommon winter residents. Hermit thrush did well, with 11 spotted by several field teams. This winter hardy thrush does just fine and dandy dining on bittersweet fruit and nut and suet cakes at feeders.

Wintering warblers did not make the count this year.

Rusty blackbird counts show peaks and valleys, but this year’s total of 38 is double our 10-year average for this diminishing species. Overall, rusties have had an alarming 45-year decline in population that may have several causes, such as winter habitat loss, poisoning of other blackbird species with rusty as an incidental victim, and disturbance of its boreal wetland breeding grounds. The more common red-winged blackbird nailed the average this year with 133, which is a total surprise considering the severity of the weather.

Our final result will show a grand total of about 26,000 birds counted, 9,500 fewer than last year’s number. The significance of this smaller tally should be attributed to harsh weather and a lower than usual field participation rate.

Again, we extend our thanks to Sudbury Valley Trustees for its sponsorship of the Concord CBC, and especially Laura Mattei for hosting our countdown and potluck supper in the comfort of the Wolbach farmhouse.

Join us next time on Sunday December 30, 2018, for another adventure in winter birding!

Learn more: Spotlight: Norm Levey and the Concord Christmas Bird Count.