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Holiday count is for the birds

February 7, 2010
By Ron Larsen — Staff Writer

NEW ULM - If you're like me, you may not have seen any birds around your house after Thanksgiving which for me meant that there weren't any birds around to sit on the overhanging branches of our boulevard Ash trees and defecate on our cars.

But, as "The Old Farmer's 2010 Almanac" for February notes: "Every bird feeder is a stage on which a company of actors performs for the delight of an attentive audience. The show is not an extravaganza, not a parade of marvels. Its pleasures are to be found more in familiarity than in spectacle or surprise. The play is known, so are the players. We're not talking about Las Vegas here, or Broadway, but about a provincial theater, well loved but seldom flashy."

So, I stand corrected. Every time those birds defecated on our cars they really were acting out a play scenario. Who would have 'thunk it.'

Article Photos

Downy Woodpecker (57)

Anyway, it's always illuminating when the annual bird count is done in December in New Ulm and its surrounding environment because then we learn that many birds actually haven't abandoned our area even though some of us don't see any traces of them, and, in fact, they have been joined by species, new to our neighborhood.

For the 2009 Christmas Bird Count, 24 volunteer counters fanned out in a 15 mile-wide circle which included Flandrau State Park, Clear Lake, St. George, Essig, New Ulm, Courtland, Searles, Klossner, the western edge of Swan Lake and all the land area within that circle.

When the counting was completed, 3,441 birds, representing 38 bird species, were counted and logged in. The count represented a drop of 1,131 from 2008's 4,572 total, and a drop of one in the number of different species counted, 39 in 2008 and 38 in 2009.

Fact Box

2009 New Ulm Christmas Bird Count Results

1. Bufflehead 1

2. Bald Eagle 3

3. Red-tailed Hawk 11

4. Rough-legged Hawk 1

5. Eastern Screech Owl 1

6. Great Homed Owl 1

7. Wild Turkey 392

8. Ring-necked Pheasant 5

9. Mourning Dove 26

10. Eurasian Collared-Dove 6 (new species for the CBC)

11. Rock Dove (Pigeon) 359

12. Pileated Woodpecker 5

13. Downy Woodpecker 57

14. Hairy Woodpecker 17

15-Red-bellied Woodpecker 16

16. Northern Flicker 3

17. Blue Jay 66

18. American Crow 113

19. Homed Lark 264

20. Black-capped Chickadee 168

21. Red-breasted Nuthatch 6

22. White-breasted Nuthatch 78

23. Brown Creeper 7

24. American Robin 3

25. European Starling 457

26. Cedar Waxwing 46

27. Northern Cardinal 91

28. American Tree Sparrow 47

29. Fox Sparrow 3

30. Dark-Eyed Junco 303

31. Snow Bunting 62

32. Lapland Longspur 100

33. Red-winged Blackbird 50

34. Common Crackle 1

35. Purple Finch 3

36. House Finch 82

37. American Goldfinch 29

38. House Sparrow 558

Total of 3,456 birds seen. We had a total of 24 participants, of those 10 were feeder watchers (6 were field counters as well as feeder watchers). Feeder hours: 7.75 Field hours: 22 Field miles driven 320 Temp 20-22 Snow 5 in. Sky cloudy wind 5-10 mph

Photos courtesy of

The number of birds counted also appears next to the name of the bird pictured. Not all birds counted are pictured.

However, the big news for bird-watching officinados was the identifying of six Eurasian Collared-Doves as an entirely new species [Streptospeleia decaocto] to the bird count, CBC veteran bird watcher Elaine Poulson of rural New Ulm reports.

Now, that's big news in the bird-watching community because it's a species that originated in Asia. During the 20th century, the Eurasian Collared-Doves made their way from Asia by a circuitous route through the Middle East, Europe and the Arctic Circle and were introduced to the Bahama Islands in 1975. From there, the doves spread to Florida and beyond in the United States, the on-line Chipper Woods Bird Observatory reports.

"These doves are usually resident, frequent villages and towns, and readily come to feeders for seed. Keep an eye out for these birds as they can be expected to turn up more frequently around the midwest and beyond," the CWBO suggests.

According to CWBO, this dove is "larger bodied than the native Mourning Dove and has a distinctly different call, sounding like 'koo-kooo, koo' with the accent on the second beat. The male often makes a display 'koo' sounding like 'mair.' Their mating display flight is similar to that of the Mourning Dove."

While that's exciting news for bird watchers, the fact is the House Sparrow rules the wintertime roost in our area. The count revealed that the House Sparrow led the list with 558 being counted. Now, that's a sizeable jump over 2008 when 392 were counted and over the previous high of 422 counted in 2004.

The European Starling situation perhaps is the most bizarre. While the bird earned second place in the 2009 count with 457 birds being recorded, the starlings led the list in 2008 with a 2,201 count. That's the single largest species count, going back to 2002.

And, while the Wild Turkey [the bird, not the bourbon] count rose dramatically from 2008 (130) to 2009 (392), the number of Bald Eagles counted dropped from 9 in 2008 to 3 [the second lowest number since the 1-count in 2002] in 2009.

Rounding out the species with counts of 300 or more were the Rock Dove (Pigeon) with 359 sightings and the Dark-Eyed Junco with 303 sightings. In the case of the Rock Dove, it was the largest sighting since 2004, and it was the largest sighting of the Juncos.

Perhaps the saddest part of the 2009 count, however, was that there was not a single Canada Goose, Gray Partridge, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Coopers Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Shrike, Eastern Bluebird, White-crowned Sparrow, Rusty Blackbird, Pine Siskin, Song Sparrow, Tufted Titmouse, Gold Crown Kinglet or Yellow Bellied Sapsucker sighted even though all had been counted at least once before since 2002.

Ron Larsen can be reached at



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