Winners/losers in Oakland’s Christmas Bird Count October 28, 2012

Posted by admin in Birding, Conservation, Golden Gate Audubon

By Bob Lewis

This year will be the 113th year of Christmas Bird Counts in North America.  Golden Gate Audubon sponsors two counts in our region, centered in San Francisco and Oakland.  Although Christmas counts are great fun and an opportunity to meet other birders, see a variety of birds and get a good understanding of what birds are available in our area, they also have a more serious side.

The National Audubon Society has made the results of all counts available to everyone at www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/hr/index.html. This Citizen Science data is used by environmentalists and ornithologists to understand population changes, and consider actions that might help to minimize the loss of endangered species.

Recently I took a look at data from the Oakland Count to see what it might say.

For a variety of reasons, it was easy for me to look at the data from 1974 to 2011.  This is a 38-year period.  I divided it in half, and compared the years 1974-1993 with 1994-2011.  Over this period, the population of Alameda County increased over 40 percent.  Another development that potentially affected bird populations was the Oakland Hills fire in 1991, just before the beginning of the second period.

I averaged the count data over each period, and applied some statistical tests to the results.  Here’s what I found, for the top 20 increases and decreases:

Birds with increasing populations

Birds with decreasing populations

Species

% incr.

Avg(1)

Species

% decr.

Avg(2)

Common Raven

1258

146

White-winged Scoter

95

199

Red-shouldered Hawk

978

29

Bonaparte’s Gull

94

164

Pygmy Nuthatch

362

95

Northern Pintail

90

1599

American Crow

302

386

Red Knot

88

117

Common Merganser

276

87

Horned Lark

87

45

Hairy Woodpecker

222

23

Pine Siskin

84

891

Black Phoebe

177

186

Ruddy Turnstone

77

22

Townsend’s Warbler

171

125

California Quail

77

432

Greater Yellowlegs

158

60

Glaucous-winged Gull

76

1386

Black-necked Stilt

121

162

Loggerhead Shrike

75

26

Wood Duck

116

17

Brandt’s Cormorant

74

107

Cinnamon Teal

110

40

Red-throated Loon

72

44

Marsh Wren

99

10

American Pipit

68

196

Acorn Woodpecker

97

39

Canvasback

65

1356

Nuttall’s Woodpecker

85

88

European Starling

64

6154

Rock Pigeon

78

2124

Wilson’s Snipe

63

33

Gadwall

76

152

Wrentit

60

445

Bufflehead

65

2093

Brewer’s Blackbird

60

1805

Brown Creeper

55

74

Burrowing Owl

58

10

Turkey Vulture

37

183

Red-breasted Merganser

57

90

 
(1)   This is the average number of birds seen per year during the second period, 1994-2011.
(2)   This is the average number of birds seen per year during the first period, 1974-1993.

Keep in mind that statistical figures can be misleading.  The Red-shouldered Hawk increase of almost 1,000 percent reflected an increase of two dozen individuals – from about three during the first period to 29 during the second period. (That is still a significant increase for hawks, which require a lot of territory.) The Northern Pintail reduction of 90 percent, on the other hand, reflected a decline from an average of 1,599 to 153.

Red-shouldered Hawk / Photo by Bob Lewis

Northern Pintail / Photo by Bob Lewis

Percentages can mean different things, depending on whether you’re talking about increases or reductions: Going from 10 to 20 birds is a 100 percent increase, while going from 20 to 10 birds is a 50 percent reduction.

Each entry in the table provokes a question – why the change?  Ravens and Crows, two of the species with the greatest increase, are attracted to human refuse as scavengers.  Perhaps our increasing population is part of the cause.

Common Raven / Photo by Bob Lewis

Pygmy Nuthatches were uncommon in most of the count circle until after the Oakland fire, when roasted pine cones provided a food source.  They came and stayed.  Nuttall’s, Acorn and Hairy Woodpeckers have all increased.  Buffleheads are now one of the most common winter ducks on the bay, while Surf Scoters, which didn’t quite make the table, have declined 52 percent and scaup species by 38 percent.  More recent years show sharper declines.

Pygmy Nuthatch / Photo by Bob Lewis

California Quail and Wrentits have declined markedly, as has acreage of chaparral, their preferred habitat.  The decline in Northern Pintail mirrors the nationwide drop in this species, perhaps due to loss in breeding habitat.

One Christmas Count data set does not provide enough data for many conclusions, but coupled with data from many counts, stories of success and worry begin to emerge.  The data is available because we have volunteers in the field every year, adding to our knowledge.  It’s getting close to count time!  The signup forms will become available on the GGAS web page in the second half of October.

Won’t you join us?  Sign up as a feeder watcher if you’re not able to spend the day in the field – it only takes a little time to check your feeder to see what’s coming, and it’s fun to do.

Oakland’s CBC will be on Sunday December 16th.  San Francisco’s will be held on Thursday December 27th.

Sign up on the GGAS web site at https://goldengateaudubon.org/birding-resources/christmas-bird-counts/.

Participants in a GGAS Christmas Bird Count

 

Tags: bird population trends, Christmas Bird Count, citizen science, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Northern Pintail, Oakland, Oakland birds, Pygmy Nuthatch, Red-shouldered Hawk.

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