A Christmas Bird Count Like No Other!

On January 2, 2021, Portland held our 95th annual (and first “Covid-safe”) Christmas Bird Count, under wet and windy conditions. The weather was the last and least of this year’s challenges. Because of ongoing risks associated with COVID-19, field teams were greatly reduced in size and area leaders had to find new and creative ways to organize their teams without the traditional in-person orientations and afternoon compilation gatherings. Feeder-watchers faced their own challenges, as a particularly aggressive outbreak of Salmonella provoked most of us to take down our seed feeders and rely on natural habitat instead. Nevertheless, a stalwart crew of 168 field observers and over 100 feeder watchers managed to tally 128 species, a whopping 6 more than last year!

Two Christmas Bird Count participants stand in a rainy parking lot with trees behind them. Both are wearing masks. One is holding an umbrella. The other has one hand triumphantly in the air.
Two Christmas Bird Count participants brave the rain for a COVID-safe day of community science. Photo by Wilfried Mueller-Crispin.

Many of those sightings were unusual or unexpected. The coveted “eagle eye” award—celebrating the most unusual bird of the day–went to the finders of the Orchard Oriole, the first record of this species in Multnomah County’s history. We jointly bestowed the mantle on Bob Lockett who originally found and identified this fantastic bird and to Steve Rogers, who refound and documented the bird on count day. Other notable sightings this year included both Surf and White-winged Scoter, Dunlin, Black-crowned Night-heron, Sora, Say’s Phoebe, a record seven (!) Black Phoebes, Clay-colored Sparrow, Western Tanager, and Great-tailed Grackle. Notable misses included Greater White-fronted Goose, Redhead, and loons of any variety. 

The Portland CBC feeds into a data set that encompasses over 2,500 CBC count circles across North America and as far south as Brazil. This was the 121st year for the CBC, making it one of the longest running large-scale data sets in existence. Hundreds of studies have been published using CBC data, and findings have been used to inform climate change science as well as important management and conservation decisions that help protect birds across their flyways.

Heartfelt gratitude to all the area leaders, Brodie Cass Talbott, Dan Strong, Lynn Herring, Carol Murdock, and Joe Liebezeit, all of whom pivoted with grace and aplomb to organize teams under COVID-era protocols and then compiled the piles of data into a usable tally. And a big shout out to the field counters and feeder watchers for making this year’s Portland CBC another outstanding success. We look forward to seeing you again next year! 

A photo of the Orchard Oriole taken by area leader Brodie Cass Talbott on a different day.

If you’d like to help out as a community scientist on next year’s CBC or another project, please visit our website to check out all the exciting opportunities. We’d love to have you join in!