It was warm and foggy all day, but the 51st annual Christmas Bird Count held on Jan. 2 was a great success. There were 77 observers — 48 in the field divided into 11 teams, each covering a different part of the Island, and 29 more at home watching their bird feeders.

We added a species that had not been observed on any of the previous counts. Fish crow becomes the 211th species recorded on a Christmas Bird Count since 1960; a remarkable 20 fish crows were both heard and observed in a Chilmark roost that also included about 350 of the slightly larger American crows. As noted previously, this was also the first confirmed sighting of fish crows on the Island. Another highlight was the Lincoln’s sparrow, observed on our bird count for the second time since 1960. It is also the second sighting in five years. Is this the beginning of a new trend? Wild turkeys were more abundant this year than in any other year. We found 129 turkeys, while the previous highs were 90 in 2003 and 89 in 2007.

A second species, tufted titmouse, tied its previous high count of 97 on the 2008 count. Titmice are a relatively new resident on the Vineyard, and the annual counts have documented a steady population increase. This is the first count to record this species in Aquinnah, so, after 10 years this species has spread into all six Island towns.

We missed three species that we normally find. This is the first time since the annual count started in 1960 that we have not recorded a Bonaparte’s gull. Black-legged kittiwakes were last missed on the 1993 count, and were observed on all but four counts between 1979 and 2009. Northern gannets show a similar pattern and have been observed every year since 1992. Both are pelagic species that we did not see this year, probably due to the foggy weather.

We found 119 species this year, plus five other species that were not observed on count day but were observed within the count period (indicated by CP in the list below), three days before or after count day. This species total is only slightly below average for the last 20 years. Last year, in much better weather, we found only 116 species.

All told, we counted 15,926 birds, the lowest number observed since 1990, when only 14,123 birds were observed. Many of the field and feeder observers noted that there were considerably fewer birds around this year.

A comparison with last year is instructive. Most of the field teams observed considerably fewer individuals this year, which is expected since our counts of individual birds was slightly less than half of last year’s total (15,962 this year, 32,267 last year). It surprised me to see that this decrease is not due to appreciably lower numbers of land birds (rock pigeon to house sparrow), as the field teams found 5,601 land birds this year, down only slightly from 5,703 last year. I would have expected that the foggy damp weather would have kept many more songbirds out of sight, hidden within the dense shrub thickets, compared to last year when the morning was mostly sunny. We had light snow cover in both years.

This means that virtually all of the decrease in numbers of birds found is due to our finding fewer waterbirds (geese through gulls and alcids). There are two likely explanations for this. First, the foggy weather meant we could not observe seabirds that were more than a quarter of a mile from the shore. And second, we had a cold December this year and most of the south shore ponds were frozen solid for two weeks or more. Because of the extended ice cover, many of the waterbirds that are usually here in early January must have gone elsewhere; the south shore ponds are usually teaming with waterbirds but were almost completely vacant this year.

Thanks to everyone who participated this year. The results will be turned in to the National Audubon Society, which compiles the results of more than 2,000 counts across the country.


Robert Culbert compiles the annual Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count, leads guided birding tours and is an ecological consultant living in Vineyard Haven.


Martha’s Vineyard Christmas Bird Count Jan. 2, 2011

Species Counted

Brant 91

Canada goose 1194

Mute swan 37

Wood duck 3

Gadwall 31

Eurasian wigeon CP

American wigeon 65

American black duck 401

Mallard 662

Northern shoveler 1

Northern pintail 5

Green-winged teal 2

Redhead 2

Ring-necked duck 7

Greater scaup 667

Lesser scaup 2

Scaup species 273

Common eider 1025

Harlequin duck 12

Surf scoter 209

White-winged scoter 177

Black scoter 52

Scoter species 104

Long-tailed duck 264

Bufflehead 674

Common goldeneye 282

Barrow’s goldeneye 2

Hooded merganser 137

Common merganser 5

Red-breasted merganser 434

Ruddy duck 14

Wild turkey 129

Red-throated loon 14

Common loon 137

Horned grebe 53

Red-necked grebe 6

Double-crested cormorant 4

Great cormorant 37

American bittern CP

Great blue heron 19

Black-crowned night heron 18

Northern harrier 10

Sharp-shinned hawk 3

Cooper’s hawk 7

Red-tailed hawk 29

Turkey vulture 29

American kestrel 1

Merlin 3

Peregrine falcon 1

Virginia rail 1

Black-bellied plover 45

Killdeer 1

American oystercatcher 1

Sanderling 157

Purple sandpiper 14

Dunlin 106

Wilson’s snipe CP

Ring-billed gull 67

Herring gull 742

Lesser black-backed gull 1

Glaucous gull 1

Great black-backed gull 62

Dovekie CP

Razorbill 4

Rock pigeon 112

Mourning dove 313

Barn owl 12

Eastern screech-owl 17

Great horned owl 2

Short-eared owl 1

Northern saw-whet owl 1

Belted kingfisher 11

Red-bellied woodpecker 54

Yellow-bellied sapsucker 1

Downy woodpecker 133

Hairy woodpecker 14

Northern flicker 56

Eastern phoebe 1

Blue jay 368

American crow 884

Fish crow 20

Horned lark 26

Black-capped chickadee 1094

Tufted titmouse 97

Red-breasted nuthatch 92

White-breasted nuthatch 151

Brown creeper 10

Carolina wren 238

Winter wren 5

Marsh wren 1

Golden-crowned kinglet 45

Ruby-crowned kinglet 2

Eastern bluebird 62

Hermit thrush 4

American robin 332

Gray catbird 35

Northern mockingbird 53

Brown thrasher 1

European starling 747

Cedar waxwing 163

Yellow-rumped warbler 64

Pine warbler 2

Palm warbler 1

Yellow-breasted chat 1

Eastern towhee 25

American tree sparrow 26

Chipping sparrow 10

Field sparrow 31

Savannah sparrow 16

“Ipswich” sparrow 3

Fox sparrow 3

Song sparrow 290

Lincoln’s sparrow 1

Swamp sparrow 16

White-throated sparrow 276

White-crowned sparrow 1

Dark-eyed junco 289

Snow bunting 8

Northern cardinal 311

Red-winged blackbird 12

Eastern meadowlark 10

Common grackle 6

Purple finch 3

House finch 237

Common redpoll CP

American goldfinch 240

House sparrow 350


Total Individuals 15,926

Total Species 119

Additional Subspecies 1

Count Period Species 5

Measures of Effort

Field Observers 48

Number of Teams 11 to 17

Total Field Hours 107.75

Owling Hours 9.25

Feeder Watchers 29

Feeder Observation Hours 152