The 87th Boonton Christmas Bird Count Report – 2022

Red-shouldered Hawk, Troy Meadows, Morris Co., NJ, Dec. 26, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Klizas) Click on the photo for a larger image.

The 87th annual Boonton Christmas Bird Count (hereafter, Boonton CBC) took place on Monday, December 26, 2022. Temperatures ranged from 14°F at 6 AM rising up to 26°F in the afternoon. It was cold, plain and simple although sunny most of the day. The frigid blast of the previous days froze most stationary bodies of water and some smaller streams and brooks. Larger rivers were mostly ice-free as were some reservoirs. There was no snow cover at all.

Most importantly, a huge warm thank you to all of the 31 participants for their enthusiasm and energy in making this endeavor possible. This post will also appear on the website.

The total number of species for 2022 is 86 with two count-week species. The 87 year average species count is 81.3. The 21st-century average is 95.3. 

Interestingly the species totals since 2018 read as follows:

  • 2018 – 86
  • 2019 – 97
  • 2020 – 86
  • 2021 – 96
  • 2022 – 86 – I suppose it was meant to be.

19,277 individual birds were tallied. This is a dip of 3,000 since 2021 but still better than the years 2017-20 when the average for that four-year period was 13,233.

White-crowned Sparrow, Montville Twp., NJ, Dec. 26, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Klizas)

Highlights for this year’s Boonton CBC are as follows:

  • Only one species had a new high total this year: 4 Cackling Geese were found. Only single geese were found in the previous four years this species was recorded.
  • 5,149 Canada Geese is the highest total since 6,072 in 2016.
  • 18 Northern Pintail is the highest total since 24 in 2014.
  • 5 Canvasbacks were recorded for the first time since 2016.
  • 15 Redheads is the highest total since 15 in 2005.
  • 1 Common Goldeneye was found. This makes five years in a row for this once annual species.
  • 1,629 Common Mergansers is the highest total since 2015 when 2,333 were recorded.
  • 2 Red-breasted Mergansers mark only the thirteenth time this species has been recorded on the Boonton CBC.
  • 1 lone Pied-billed Grebe was observed. This species has been missed only three times since 1965.
  • The streak for Merlin continues. 1 was found marking the tenth year in a row for this species. The first Merlin ever recorded on the Boonton CBC was 1 in 1991. Merlin didn’t become a regular entry until 2001.
  • To a lesser degree a similar pattern has emerged for Peregrine Falcon. This marks the fourth year in a row for this species. Peregrines were found in 1939, 1941, 1954, and then not again until 1997.
  • 1 Wilson’s Snipe represents the only shorebird found on the count in 2022.
  • Woodpecker totals were not noteworthy although Yellow-bellied Sapsucker numbers are clearly on a steady upward trajectory. They now nest in Morris County for the past few years.
  • Blue Jays had their highest total, 727, since 746 in 2016.
  • Common Ravens have become a relatively common feature of the count circle’s avifauna. 23 is the second highest total since they were first found in 2002. 2021’s 45 is an extraordinary total.
  • 2 Marsh Wrens were recorded despite mostly frozen wetlands.
  • 2 Golden-crowned Kinglets kept this species from having only the second miss since 1967. However, see Ruby-crowned Kinglet in Other News below.
  • 45 Eastern Bluebirds continues a strong showing for this species during the past three years.
  • 2 half-hardy Gray Catbirds were located. This species has been hit-or-miss in recent years.
  • 62 Northern Mockingbirds is the highest total since 76 in 2012.
  • The only warblers found were 3 Yellow-rumped Warblers. 2021 saw the all-time Yellow-rumped Warbler high count for the Boonton CBC with 136.
  • 1 Savannah Sparrow kept this species from being absent for the second year in a row. Since 1971 it has only been missed four times.
  • Sparrow totals were erratic. Only 27 Swamp Sparrows were tallied, 45% below their 10-year average. Song and Fox Sparrows were slightly down. But White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos were respectively 32% and 50% higher than their 21st century averages. 
  • 2 White-crowned Sparrows were found for the first time since 2015. This species was annual from 1994-2013.
  • Northern Goshawk and Pine Siskin are count-week species. This means they were observed either three days before the count date or three days after the count date. They are not included in the species and individual totals but have their own data field on the National Audubon CBC database.

Other News:

  • American Wigeon was missed for the fifth time since 2015. This was an annual species from 1990- 2014.
  • Vultures – what can be said of Black and Turkey Vultures. Only 18 Black and 49 Turkey Vultures were tallied. The average for the previous four years is 52 and 91 respectively. It was a decent flight day weather-wise. Just a statistical blip? Avian flu victims?
  • American Kestrel was missed again for the fifth time since 2011. This was an annual species from 1936 (first year of the Boonton CBC) through 1998 with a high count of 32 in 1976.
  • Great Black-backed Gull was missed for the second time in three years. It was annual from 1969-2019.
  • 296 Mourning Doves is the lowest total since 254 in 2009.
  • American Coot was absent for the fifth time in the 21st century. Its numbers are highly erratic whenever it is present.
  • Barred Owl was missed. They are in the area but icy conditions and other weather related obstacles prevented them from being observed. This sounds like a plausible excuse anyway.
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch was missed for the fourth time in the past eight years. It was annual from 1969-2014.
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet was missed for the first time since 1997 and only the third time since 1969.
  • A shocker: Cedar Waxwings were entirely absent for the first time since 1989. 65 were tallied in 2021.
  • The decline in numbers of the American Tree Sparrow is the new normal. 78 were tallied this year. Triple and even quadruple totals were formerly the norm. 1,569 is the high total from 1949. Fifteen other years saw totals over 1,000, the last being 1,156 in 1998. The 21st Century has seen a steady drop. The average for 2017-2022 is 102.5 and declining. The 87-year average is 617. Note that American Tree Sparrow is ranked seventh on the Top Ten of individuals for the 87 year history of the Boonton CBC. It is ranked 31st for this year’s count. What happened?

33 species’ totals were higher than their 21st-century average which ironically is the same number as 2020. 2021 saw 47 species with higher averages.

Great Blue Heron, Montville Twp., NJ, Dec. 26, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Klizas)

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 87-year history of the count.

SpeciesTotal% on BCBCComments
Cackling Goose45.7%First recorded in 2008.
Northern Shoveler152.9%Iced-up lakes caused this low number.
Canvasback559.8%Formerly regular and numerous especially in the mid-1970s, scarce in the past ten years.
Redhead1549.4%With open water, it can usually be found somewhere.
Common Goldeneye174.7%Less frequent since 2011.
Red-breasted Merganser214.9%Uncommon on the Boonton CBC.
Pied-billed Grebe177.0%Erratic totals year-by-year but usually found.
Merlin124.1%Has become a nearly annual find in the 21st century.
Peregrine Falcon123.0%Another species becoming a regular.
Wilson’s Snipe163.2%Three years in a row on the CBC after a five-year hiatus.
Savannah Sparrow172.4%Getting harder to find on the CBC.
White-crowned Sparrow235.6%First since 2015.

The following table shows notable species missed in 2022 that appear in more than 50% in the history of the Boonton CBC. 

Species% on BCBCComments
American Wigeon80.5%Formerly an annual find, missed in five of the past eight years.
Ruffed Grouse58.6%Last reported in 2006.
Rough-legged Hawk54.0%Not reported since 2010.
American Kestrel87.4%Irregular since ~2000.
American Coot72.4%First miss since 2008.
Killdeer63.2%Chalk this miss to the weather.
Great Black-backed Gull64.4%Less frequent in recent years.
Barred Owl60.9%Probably a weather-related miss.
Long-eared owl59.8%Formerly a regular find, now rare on the CBC
Red-breasted Nuthatch71.3%Has become scarce in recent years.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet72.4%As stated earlier, first miss since 1997.
Cedar Waxwing 77.0%A surprise miss.

Historical Items

Below is the list of species occurring in all 87 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 87 years of the count. 1,455,788 individual birds were counted uninterrupted from 1936-2022. There is a change in the Top Ten for the first time in many years. White-throated Sparrow has replaced House Sparrow in the tenth slot. The applause is deafening.

 SpeciesTotal Individuals (86 years)
1European Starling214,311
2Canada Goose180,238
3Common Grackle133,200
4American Crow126,757
6Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco58,843
7American Tree Sparrow53,667
8Red-winged Blackbird44,580
9Ring-billed Gull40,417
10White-throated Sparrow39,982

The 88th Boonton CBC for 2023

The Boonton CBC is traditionally held on the second Sunday of the Christmas Count period. This can cause conflicts when a certain holiday and the day that precedes it fall on that Sunday, namely December 24 and 25. This occurred in 2022 which is why the Boonton CBC was held on Monday, December 26. December 24 falls on a Sunday in 2023. Looking over the history of the count one discovers that the Boonton CBC was held on Saturday the 23rd in those situations. With that in mind, we will schedule the 88th Boonton CBC on Saturday, December 23, 2023. This could cause a conflict with other CBCs. Hopefully, everyone can make it.

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 web site.

A peaceful and healthy 2023 to all!

Jonathan Klizas
Compiler, Boonton CBC

Nature and Art, nothing else matters.— 

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