The 86th Boonton Christmas Bird Count Report – 2021

The 86th annual Boonton Christmas Bird Count (hereafter, BCBC) took place on Sunday, December 26, 2021. Temperatures ranged from 41°F at 6 AM, falling a few degrees in the morning before rising up to 48°F in the afternoon. A gorgeous day with mostly blue skies, sunshine, and open water creating a pleasant atmosphere for the 42 participants.

Most importantly, a huge warm thank you to all of the participants for their enthusiasm and energy in making this endeavor possible.

96 species were tallied along with 1 count-week addition. Count-week is three days before and three days after the actual count date. Count-week species are not included in the CBC total species count.

The 86 year average species count is 82. The 21st-century average is…96.

22,525 individual birds were tallied. This is a boost from the previous four years (2017-2020) whose average is 13,200 and is approximately average for the previous ten years. The rise in numbers is partly due to an increase in Common Grackle, European Starling, and American Robin numbers this year. These species’ numbers vary greatly from year to year.

SpeciesAvg. 2017-20Total in 2021
American Robin1141,086
European Starling1,3322,827
Common Grackle6634,042

Highlights for this year’s Boonton CBC are below along with new record high totals and ties:

  • Common Ravens first appeared on the BCBC in 2002. They were tallied sporadically until 2011 and recorded every year since then. The high count of 12 was reached in both 2019 and 2020. Well, throw that number out. 2021 has 45 (!) Common Ravens recorded. 
  • Sora was recorded for the sixth time in the 86 year history of the BCBC and the first since 1977, forty-four years ago. Thank the intrepid marsh-man, Jeff Ellerbusch, for that outstanding record.
  • Virginia Rails were often recorded between 1946-87 but none since then. Five were tallied in Troy Meadows in 2021, the most since 5 were recorded in 1982.
  • Common Yellowthroats have appeared in 26% of the BCBC. One was recorded in 2019 but one must go back to 2004 for the previous one. In other words, they are rare on the BCBC this century. 4 Common Yellowthroats are tallied for 2021, the most since 7 were recorded in 1984 and the second most in the 86 year history of the BCBC.
  • Orange-crowned Warblers have appeared twelve times on the BCBC. The one found in 2021 is the first since 2008 and the fourth during the 21st century.
  • 1 Cackling Goose is the third record for the BCBC.
  • 1 Eastern Phoebe is the 12th record for the BCBC.
  • Bald Eagles had a record 21 tallied in 2021. Their previous high count was 14 in 2020. 
  • Turkey Vultures are taken for granted. They always seem to be around although you may notice more of them in our area this winter. 2021 sets the all-time BCBC record with 118 Turkey Vultures breaking the previous record of 102 set in 1992.
  • 3 Peregrine Falcons match the high count first tallied in 2011.
  • 17 is a record number of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. The previous high was 11 in 2019. They are now a nester in Morris County.
  • 17 Ruby-crowned Kinglets is a BCBC record. 15 in 1984 was the previous high count.
  • 7 Gray Catbirds ties the BCBC record set in 1996.
  • 136 Yellow-rumped Warblers is a new BCBC record. 124 in 2000 is the previous high.

Other News:

  • Black Vultures had their fourth highest total with 65. Keep in mind that Black Vultures only started getting recorded on the BCBC in 1989.
  • 2 Red-breasted Mergansers are the first since 2017 and only the twelfth occurrence on the BCBC.
  • 12 Pied-billed Grebes is the highest total since 22 were found in 1998.
  • 8 Sharp-shinned Hawks is the highest total since 12 were counted in 2011. From 1991-2011, double-digit Sharp-shinned Hawks were tallied each year except for two years. 
  • After a dip in numbers between 2009-2019 when the average total during that period was 53, Red-tailed Hawks are rebounding slightly in the past two years with totals of 80 and 71 respectively.
  • How times have changed for the American Kestrel. Two years in a row with 1 reported is something special these days. 3 is the highest total in the 21st century (2001) but eight years in this century have had zero. Am. Kestrel was annual on the BCBC from 1936 (the first year of the BCBC) through 1998. Am. Kestrels averaged a total of 22 between 1971-1982 with high counts of 32 in 1976 and 1978.
  • Merlins were first reported on the BCBC in 1991 with one individual. The next records are 1995 (1), 2001 (2), and every year except two since 2003.
  • 6 Killdeer is the most since 8 in 2009.
  • 1 Wilson’s Snipe marks the second year in a row for this once somewhat reliable species. None were reported from 2015-19.
  • 24 Eastern Screech-Owls is the most since 29 in 2004.
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers continue their wild swing in numbers:
    • 2016 – 177
    • 2017 – 51 
    • 2018 – 142
    • 2019 – 243
    • 2020 – 82
    • 2021 – 176
  • Northern Flickers have similar swings: 24 in 2020; 81 in 2021.
  • 1,086 American Robins in 2021; 53 in 2020. Typical numbers for this species.
  • 11 Eastern Towhees in 2021; none in 2020.
  • 59 Am. Tree Sparrows is the second lowest total in the entire history of the BCBC. This once abundant species has fallen precipitously and inexplicably. A total of 75 in 1936, the first year of the BCBC, was followed by consecutive years in the hundreds and 16 years with totals over 1,000 until 2017. Can anyone explain this serious drop?
  • In a year when both Virginia Rails and a Sora are tallied, how can there be zero Marsh Wrens on the BCBC date other than a count-week entry?
  • 203 House Sparrows is the lowest total since 186 in 1971.
  • Another shocker: 102 Rock Pigeons is the lowest total ever. 
  • Both Black-backed Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse have seen a steep drop in BCBC numbers during the recent part of the 21st century. See the average numbers in the following table.
Average counts86 years of BCBC21st Cent. 2000-20162017-2021
Black-capped Chickadee30119923193
Tufted Titmouse238294340140

47 species were above their 21st century average. Only 33 species were above average in 2020.

The following species were seen by one party only, an indicator of how fragile the total species count of a CBC can be. The species column is followed by the amount reported. The third column represents the percentage of occurrences in the 86-year history of the count.

SpeciesTotal% on BCBCComments
Cackling Goose14.7%First counted in 2008.
American Wigeon181.4%Common and fairly numerous most years of the count until 2015.
Redhead448.8%Usually found somewhere.
Lesser Scaup1752.3%Highest total since 62 in 2012.
Common Goldeneye174.4%Less frequent since 2011.
American Kestrel188.4%See comments earlier in this summary.
Merlin123.3%Increasing in regularity.
Sora17.0%First since 1977.
Killdeer664.0%Another species becoming less frequent.
Wilson’s Snipe162.8%Note the similarity to Killdeer’s occurrences.
Great Black-backed Gull165.1%Peak numbers are in the 1980s.
Eastern Phoebe115.1%Mild temperature find.
Hermit Thrush168.6%Erratic on the BCBC.
Orange-crowned Warbler114.0%First since 2008.
Purple Finch391.9%2021-22 is not a productive winter finch season.

The following table shows notable species missed in 2021 that appear more than 50% in the history of the count. 

Species% on BCBCComments
Canvasback59.3%Missed five years in a row and seven out of the past nine.
Ruffed Grouse59.3%Last reported in 2006.
Rough-legged Hawk54.7%Not reported since 2010.
Long-eared Owl60.5%Irregular since 2008.
Savannah Sparrow72.1%First miss since 2008.
Pine Siskin57.0%Simply not a flight year.

Historical Items

Below is the list of species occurring in all 86 years of the Boonton CBC. This has not changed since 2018:

  • American Black Duck
  • Mallard
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Brown Creeper
  • European Starling
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco
  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Sparrow

Here is the top ten of the number of individuals for all 86 years of the count. 1,436,511 individual birds were counted uninterrupted from 1936-2021. No change in the order from last year, or the year before that, or the year before that,…:

 SpeciesTotal Individuals (86 years)
1European Starling212,564
2Canada Goose175,089
3Common Grackle132,072
4American Crow126,354
5Mallard65,361
6Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco57,408
7American Tree Sparrow53,589
8Red-winged Blackbird44,153
9Ring-billed Gull40,201
10House Sparrow39,063

White-throated Sparrow is catching up with 38,884 and will probably replace House Sparrow next year.

The Boonton CBC for 2022

The second Sunday of the CBC count period in 2022 falls on December 25. Apparently, that creates a scheduling conflict for some people. When this calendar event occurs, traditionally the Boonton CBC is held the day after on a Monday which will be December 26, 2022. We’ll go with that date. Hopefully, everyone can make it.

This report is also at the following location on the mocosocoBirds.com web site:

https://mocosocobirds.com/birds-of-morris-county-n-j/boontoncbc/2021-2/

A list of the species found on this CBC is at the following link:

You can also access these pages through the Birds of Morris County > Boonton Christmas Bird Count menu item on the mocosocoBirds.com web site.

A peaceful and healthy 2022 to all!

Jonathan Klizas

Compiler Boonton Christmas Bird Count

Nature and Art, nothing else matters.

This entry was posted in Christmas Bird Count, Morris County and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The 86th Boonton Christmas Bird Count Report – 2021

  1. David Fantina says:

    Thanks, Jonathan.
    You do a great job of distilling a lot of data into manageable pieces (reminds me of the days when you did it for our BBS survey).
    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.
    Dave Fantina

    PS: I had the trip of a lifetime early this month. Jeanne & I went to Akumal in the Yucatan Penninsula and White-nosed Coati, Central American Agouti, Great Kiskadee, Yucatan Jay, Yucatan Vireo, & Yellow-backed Oriole were just a few of the highlights.

  2. Garry says:

    Thanks Jonathan for such an excellent summary and for all your hard work coordinating and compiling

    Garry

    Sent from a mobile device with a small screen and smaller keyboard so please forgive any errors.

    >

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