Eastern bluebirds have been wintering broadly across Maine this winter in impressive numbers. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

The 124th Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, conducted between Dec. 15 and Jan. 6, is now history. The data provide us with information on the status of our regular winter residents, the number of northern birds coming south to seek food, and the number of summering birds that have ignored their normal migrate-by date.

We’ll start with a few inland counts from central Maine. The Unity CBC on Dec. 16 produced a list of 52 species. Highlights among the seven species of waterfowl were four American wigeons, a greater scaup and two buffleheads. Two common loons found enough open water to stick around as well.

Northern shrikes have mostly stayed to our north this winter so the singleton here was notable. Eastern bluebirds have been wintering broadly across Maine this winter in impressive numbers. The Unity counters found 35. Other lingering birds included three savannah sparrows and a swamp sparrow.

Four northern finches were present, including an impressive 36 red crossbills in this non-invasion winter.

The Augusta CBC, also on Dec. 16, yielded 59 species. Seven species of waterfowl included three buffleheads (new high). The count of 18 common loons (new high) was made even sweeter by the sighting of a red-throated loon. The latter is rare inland in Maine in the winter.

Hardy lingering birds included three great blue herons (new high), three sandhill cranes, a northern flicker, eight Carolina wrens, 106 eastern bluebirds (new high), a hermit thrush, two northern mockingbirds, and three common grackles. But the most amazing lingering bird was a blue-headed vireo. Although this species is the last of our vireos to migrate south in the fall, but most have departed by Halloween.


An eye-popping 213 bald eagles were found, easily a new high for the count. Northern visitors included five common redpolls and a dozen red crossbills.

The Farmington count on Dec. 28 tallied 38 species. Open water was hard to find so diving ducks and loons were long gone. The only waterfowl were mallards and American black ducks.

Diurnal raptors sighted were three red-tailed hawks, four bald eagles and a merlin.

This area seems to be a stronghold for black-capped chickadees. The total of 516 far outnumbered any other species.

Lingering species included 14 eastern bluebirds and 24 cedar waxwings. Two bohemian waxwings, our normal winter waxwing, are hopefully a harbinger of more of these beauties this winter. Pine siskins were well represented with 55 individuals. Otherwise, this count was average, not many surprises but no alarm bells.

Let’s move to one of the Maine CBC’s with the harshest winter weather. The Misery Township CBC is located just to the south of Jackman. One would expect that the species diversity in this challenging habitat would be low. The nineteen species found on New Year’s Day were actually a pretty good total. I have participated in this count when only 14 species were found by multiple parties.


Two bald eagles were the only raptors. A couple of gray jays imparted a northern flavor to the count. American crows (4) and common ravens (2) were scarce.

Black-capped chickadees were the most abundant species with 124 counted. Runners-up were 34 red-breasted nuthatches and 33 blue jays.

I have nothing but respect for a common grackle that was still sticking around. Northern finches included five purple finches, six red crossbills, 46 white-winged crossbills and 53 pine siskins.

We’ll go now to the southernmost CBC in Maine. The Isles of Shoals CBC is centered on a few small islands that straddle the Maine-New Hampshire border about 10 miles off the coast. Definitely a count for the hardy birder.

The count his year took place on Jan. 1. Clear weather and calm seas made for a pleasant boat cruise. The counters did go ashore at Star Island for some land birding, but this count is really all about seabirds.

Highlights of the 37 species included 790 common eiders, 1,936 black scoters (shattering the old record of 964), 68 purple sandpipers, a pomarine jaeger, 16 Atlantic puffins (new high), 11 common murres (new record) and seven species of gulls. The five perching bird species surprisingly included a Carolina wren and a palm warbler.

Herb Wilson taught ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at whwilson@colby.edu

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