Common Raven, Morris Twp., Morris Co., NJ, Dec. 27, 2020 (photo by Jonathan Klizas)

The 85th annual Boonton Christmas Bird Count (CBC) occurred on Sunday, December 27, 2020. The temperature at dawn was 19°F and climbed to 35°F in the afternoon. Beautifully clear skies made for a comfortable day in the field for the 40 participants.

The mild temperatures and heavy rain of December 23-24 melted the earlier snowfall clearing the ground. Most water sources were ice-free.

86 species were tallied along with two count-week additions. 

The two count-week species, Northern Saw-whet Owl and Northern Harrier, are part of the record although not included in the official totals for the count day submitted to the National Audubon CBC data center (count-week is defined as three days prior to and three days after the actual count date).

13,463 individual birds were tallied. While historically low, the average for the previous three years (2017-19) is 13,156.

Highlights for this year’s CBC are below. All high counts refer to the Boonton CBC:

  • Winter finches lingered long enough to be tallied in 2020. Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill, and one lone Red-breasted Nuthatch are included this year.
  • A record number of 14 Bald Eagles smashed the previous record of 10.
  • 23 Pileated Woodpeckers is a new record. 18 in 2016 was the previous high. From 1936 to 1968, Pileateds were rare with singletons only and mostly none reported. 
  • 146 Buffleheads is second only to the 221 tallied in 2006.
  • For the second year in a row, a high count of 12 Common Ravens was counted.
  • 130 Carolina Wrens is an 85-year record.
  • 22 Winter Wrens is the second-highest total to the 23 of 1998.
  • You may notice a few more vultures floating around this season. 86 Turkey Vultures is the most since 2012, and 58 Black Vultures is the most since 2015. 
  • 11 Red-shouldered Hawks is the highest total since…13 in 1954. The 85-year average is 3.
  • 80 Red-tailed Hawks is an improvement over recent years and the most since 2008.
  • American Kestrel (1), Merlin (2), and Peregrine Falcon (1) were all represented.
  • Eastern Screech-Owl spots must be well-known to the pre-dawn owlers. The past three years have totals of 23, 22, and 22.
  • 21 Belted Kingfishers is the second-highest total since 2002.
  • 1 Wilson’s Snipe is the first since 2014. Snipe were almost annual until recent years. The high count was 29 in 1979. 22 were counted as recently as 2010.
  • Black-capped Chickadees doubled their totals from the previous three years. 170 in 2020; 59, 78, and 82 from 2017-19 respectively.
  • 18 Brown Creepers is the most since 2012 and the second-highest since 1996.
  • Eastern Bluebirds (47) had their second-highest total since 2008. The 21st-century average is 33.
  • Wild Turkeys were first recorded in 1983 and not again until 1988 where they have been annually tallied uninterrupted through 2020.
  • 10 Common Goldeneyes is the highest count since 10 in 1996. 
  • 3 Chipping Sparrows make this three out of four years for this uncommon species on the CBC.

33 species were above their 21st-Century average. Of course, this means that 53 species were below their 21st-century average. 40 were above average in 2019. 

Other news:

  • American Wigeon was missed for the fourth time in six years after a streak of 25 years of being counted.
  • Eastern Towhee had their second-highest total in 2019 with 35. In 2020: zero, only the second miss since 1968 other than a count-week tally.
  • Gray Catbird: third miss in five years after a string of almost annual records since the 1970s.
  • 1 Red-breasted Nuthatch was a nice find, especially since it was missed in three of the previous five years. It was annual from 1968-2014 often with double-digit totals. Think of this: 58 Red-breasted Nuthatches in 1981.
  • Zero Red-headed Woodpeckers were found. So it goes with this cyclical species. 25 were counted in 2019.
  • What does one make of the roller-coaster swings of the Red-bellied Woodpecker population? The following four years are typical since 2010. Similar trends can be found with the other woodpecker species as well.
Year total
2020 82
2019 243
2018 142
2017 51
  • 173 Blue Jays is the lowest total since 173 in 1988.

The following species were seen by one party only. The species column is followed by the amount reported. The third column represents the percentage of occurrences in the 85-year history of the count:

Seen by only one party
Species Tot. % on CBC Comment
Northern Pintail 4 69.4 Seen every year since 1998, usually in low numbers
Redhead 8 48.2 Usually found somewhere on the CBC.
Pied-billed Grebe 4 76.5 Only three misses since 1965.
American Kestrel 1 88.2 Was annual from 1936-98; sporadic since.
Peregrine Falcon 1 21.2 First occurred on the count in 1997.
Wilson’s Snipe 1 62.4 Formerly fairly regular, now rare on the CBC.
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 71.8 Annual from 1968-2014.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 72.9 Only two misses since 1970. 
Chipping Sparrow 3 28.2 2nd year in a row.
Savannah Sparrow 1 72.9 Three misses since 1971.
Brown-headed Cowbird 5 82.4 In keeping with low numbers of Icterids.
Purple Finch 4 91.8 Annual from 1966-2014. Twice missed plus a count-week species since then.

The following table shows notable species missed in 2020 that appear <50% in the history of the count. 

Species Missed % on CBC Comment
Canvasback 60.0 Not reported since 2016, formerly regular.
Lesser Scaup 51.8 Missed three out of four years.
Ruffed Grouse 60.0 Not seen since 2006.
Northern Harrier 81.2 Tallied as a count-week species this year.
Rough-legged Hawk 55.3 Not surprising.
Killdeer 63.5 Missed three out of four years.
Great Black-backed Gull 64.7 First complete miss since 1968, with one count-week year included in that period.
Long-eared Owl 61.2 Tallied only once in the past six years.
Eastern Towhee 78.8 35 in 2019; none in 2020.

 Historical Items

Below is the list of species occurring in all 85 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 85 years of the count. No change in the order from last year:

  Species Total Individuals (85 years)
1 European Starling 209,737
2 Canada Goose 170,100
3 Common Grackle 128,030
4 American Crow 125,776
5 Mallard 64,713
6 Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco 56,825
7 American Tree Sparrow 53,530
8 Red-winged Blackbird 43,918
9 Ring-billed Gull 39,705
10 House Sparrow 38,860

Mark your calendars. Next year’s count will be on Sunday, December 26, 2021.

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


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 wonderful 2021 to all!

Nature and Art, nothing else matters.

Jonathan Klizas, Compiler

Boonton Christmas Bird Count