Counties complete bird counts

This winter, bird watchers in Trumbull and Mahoning counties helped keep count of the various species of birds in the area, submitting totals to the National Audubon Society.

Trumbull County’s Christmas Bird Count was held Dec. 15. Birds were counted in a 15-mile radius, which included Champion, Southington, West Farmington, North Bloomfield, Bristolville, Mecca, Cortland and Kent State University at Trumbull.

Carole Babyak, coordinator of the local effort, said the Christmas Bird Count has been done nationally since 1900 and in Trumbull County since 1976. The count is entered on the National Audubon Society website and used as a database for bird population research.

”Many people help by watching their bird feeders,” she said.

Babyak said comparing the Trumbull County count of 2013 with the 2012 results shows how important the weather can be. The high temperature for the Dec. 14, 2012, bird count was 57.

”The mild weather did not freeze lakes and ponds, so ducks lingered in their migration and 15 species of ducks were tallied,” she said.

During this year’s count, the high temperature was 28, with 5 inches of snow on the ground, cold temperatures, freezing lakes and streams, which resulted in only two species of ducks counted.

Highlights of the count included: 67 mallards and one green-winged teal, while more than 2,000 mallards tallied in 2012. There ware also 366 red-winged blackbirds tallied in 2012, while only one remained for the 2013 count. Pine siskins came further south last year, but were absent this year. Horned larks, which visit farmers’ fields, were counted both years.

Rough-legged hawks and a northern shrike were counted in 2013, indicating that they came farther south. Sandhill cranes have been increasing their population in Trumbull County, and one bird was found during the count in spite of the snow and cold.

Babyak said bluebirds have increased as a result of bluebird nest box trails. Last year 60 were counted, and 59 were found in 2013, indicating a fairly stable winter population.

A total of 24 bald eagles – 15 adults and nine immatures – were counted this year, an increase over last year’s 18 bald eagles (11 adults and seven immatures).

Babyak said the results showed that eagles can survive frozen lakes, snow and cold temperatures. Tundra Swans migrate through the county during spring and their return to the Chesapeake Bay every year, 49 were counted this year.

Babyak said every Christmas bird count ever done is available on the Audubon website.

Researchers use the data from the CBC to study fluctuating bird populations. Weather has to be a consideration, but other factors are important.

For example, Babyak said the bald eagle declined in the past as a result of DDT, a pesticide, inhibiting calcium reproduction in the female eagle. After laying the egg, the weight of the incubating mother would crush the egg. When DDT was removed from the environment, the eagles recovered and increased.

“Trumbull County is the second-highest county in Ohio for numbers of eagles’ nests,” she said.

The bird count is hosted by the National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology in partnership with Bird Studies Canada. There are 65 different counts in Ohio.

In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City began the Christmas Bird Count.

Gary Meiter, coordinator of the Mahoning Valley Chapter backyard bird count, said George L. Fordyce, a prominent Youngstown merchant devoted to birds and Mill Creek Park, joined the effort in 1904. The area has participated ever since.

Meiter said the 15 miles in diameter encompasses the Greater Youngs-town area, Salem and Beaver Creek.

Meiter said there was a total of 62 species counted on Dec. 14 plus a Northern Shrike, seen on Dec 12.

”Although most of the still water was frozen, we had a good selection of waterfowl concentrated on some open water at Evans Lake,” he said.

Meiter said beyond the usual Canada geese and mallards, one snow goose, 15 American black ducks, 67 gadwall, one greater scaup, nine buffleheads, 22 common goldeneye, 41 hooded mergansers, one red-breasted merganser and 153 ruddy ducks were counted. Also sighted was one horned grebe, a water bird.

Meiter said some unusual birds found were a merlin, a glaucous gull, a pine warbler, and a summer tanager. The glaucous gull is a large, pale gull that nests in the Arctic. It is regular on Lake Erie in winter, but unusual inland in Ohio. The pine warbler generally winters from North Carolina south to Florida and west to eastern Texas. The usual wintering grounds for the summer tanager is from central Mexico south to the Brazilian Amazon.

In addition to the merlin, raptors included four bald eagles and various owls and hawks.

Meiter said the greater scaup, a duck, was unusual to see in the area since the lesser scaup is more common.

Meiter said a flamingo previously sighted in the area probably escaped from a zoo.