Bird count reveals new winged visitors

December 27, 2001

Bird count reveals new winged visitors


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - This month's Christmas Bird Count continued to emphasize a shift in species wintering in Franklin County, Pa., largely due to changing agricultural practices since the local count started 41 years ago.

In the Dec. 15 count, 80 people in 27 parties went afield while 25 additional people watched their home feeders.

Combined, they counted a total of 21,020 birds and 73 species, said Joan Bowen, count coordinator.

Two species - the rose-breasted grosbeak and the house wren - were spotted in the county for the first time since the count began, she said.

Named for its triangular rose-red breast patch, the rose-breasted grosbeak is a very colorful forest songbird, according to the Web site, The male's hurried song resembles that of the robin but is more bright and musical, like the song of "a robin who took singing lessons."


While a handful of great blue herons, turkey vultures and field sparrows were counted, European starlings accounted for nearly half of the total count, Bowen said.

Other common birds were mallards, rock doves, mourning doves and house sparrows, with more than 1,000 of each counted.

In 41 years of counting, the Chambersburg, Pa.-based Conococheague Audubon Society has counted more than 2 million birds and 128 species. Its figures are added to the Audubon Society's national count, which began more than 100 years ago.

Generally, many species were somewhat below average, possibly due to the cloudy, windy conditions on the count day, Bowen said.

"The weather was a factor. It was windy early in the day and hard to find birds ... they tend to stay down in a warm corner during strong winds," Bowen said.

However, a count of 67 eastern bluebirds set a new record over the previous high of 52 in 1988.

Bowen attributes the increase to bluebird nesting boxes distributed by the society.

Placing the boxes in good locations has helped the bluebirds recover from a threatened status, she said.

Drought conditions were likely the reason that few waterfowl other than mallards and Canada geese were spotted.

However, mallards have increased from a low count of 52 in 1969 to 1,045 this year, and Canada geese increased from zero in 1985 to 553.

But while some species are thriving, counters saw a definite decline in others.

Bobwhite quails have not been seen or heard since 1995 when two were reported, down from a high count of 153 in 1969, Bowen said.

Only six ring-necked pheasants were found, down from a high count of 262 in 1971, she said.

These declines are primarily due to the loss of fence row habitats as a result of changes in farming practices.

"There are no more fence rows, where these birds found food and shelter," she said.

Another species, the horned lark, has declined from a high of 2,095 in 1967 to 254 this year due to a change in manure management on farms.

"Raw manure spread on fields often had bits of undigested grain these birds would feed on. Now, most of manure is liquefied and spread on fields and there are no particles of grain in that," Bowen said.

Bird counters were assigned to five zones covering a circular area 15 miles in diameter with its center near the head of the Falling Spring on Falling Spring Road near Chambersburg.

The Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when a group of conservationists was looking for an alternative to the holiday practice of hunting on Christmas Day, said Geoff LeBaron, the national Audubon count director.

Last year, more than 54 million birds were counted, including 2,485 species.

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