Bird watchers in the Kansas City area and across the United States are finalizing their annual Christmas Bird Count tallies. The census, run by the National Audubon Society, ends Thursday and provides a snapshot of bird species and populations.
Michael Stoakes from the Burroughs Audubon Society in Lees Summit, compiles the bird numbers within a 50 miles radius of the Kansas City area. Canada Geese and European Starlings featured strongly in the tally, but according to his preliminary data, only 63 species were identified in his own count circle, down from a usual range of 75 to 80.
"We were kind of short on species like American Tree Sparrows which is a species that is common here in the winter time," says Stoakes. "Harris’s Sparrow, which happens to be the Burrough's group mascot, we just haven’t seen many of them."
Colder winter weather is expected to drive more sparrows into the Kansas City area.
Stoakes says that during his 10 plus years of Christmas bird counting, the numbers of most local species, including cardinals and robins, have remained steady. His volunteers also encountered a bird rarely seen the Kansas City area, lesser black-backed gull on Longview Lake.
“More than likely it will be the only lesser black-backed gull, one of just a few, that are found in the state during this Christmas bird count period," he said. "It’s a seagull, but it’s also found on freshwater.”
Stoakes says that data he's seen shows that 124 bird species were sighted in the Four Rivers Conservation Area at the town of Horton, which is likely a record number for the state of Missouri.
The National Audubon Society calls the Christmas Bird count, now in its 117th year, the longest running citizen science project in the nation. The 2015-16 count involved nearly 60,000 volunteers with more than 54 million birds tallied.
Danny Wood is a freelance reporter