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Great Backyard Bird Count Sets New Species Record

Nearly half the world’s species identified in four days

For release: March 3, 2015

New York, NY, Ithaca, NY, and Port Rowan, ON–Participants from more than 100 countries submitted a record 147,265 bird checklists for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count and broke the previous count record for the number of species identified. The 5090 species reported represents nearly half the possible bird species in the world. The four-day count was held February 13-16, the 18th year for the event which is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Birds Canada.
The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale made possible by using the eBird online checklist program. A sampling of species found by intrepid counters include Ibisbill in India, Bornean Bristlehead in Malaysia, and Magellanic Plover in Chile, complete with amazing photos. GBBC participants even reported two species, Millpo Tapaculo and Santa Marta Screech-Owl, that have not yet been described in the official scientific literature.
Bitter Weather
The bitter cold, snowy weather in much of Canada and the northeastern United States was a major factor in this year’s count. In much of the Northeast, Sunday was particularly frigid and windy, and the number of reports showed an obvious dip as some counters were forced indoors. As one participant in Quebec noted, watching birds came with a price as wind chill temperatures rarely topped -20 degrees Celsius.
For those who did brave the cold, the GBBC data will help to better understand the impact of the cold on birds and bird populations. For example, scientists will be able to compare the abundance of some so-called “half-hardy” species, such as Carolina Wren and Yellow-rumped Warbler, to see if this cold winter has affected their populations.
Snowy Owl Echo
Snowy Owls are one of the most charismatic and emblematic birds of winter. They breed in Arctic regions worldwide and drop south in some winters (“irrupt”), depending on food supplies and their breeding success in the previous summer. The winter of 2013-14 was a huge year for these owls, which appeared in amazing numbers across southern Canada, the Great Lakes states, Northeastern U.S., and the Atlantic Coast. GBBC reports for 2015 also show a surge in Snowy Owl sightings across the same range, though the frequency of reports is about half of last winter’s. This is a well-known phenomenon with Snowy Owls, with the year after a very large invasion often being referred to as an “echo flight.”
Winter Finches
Winter finches—such as Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, redpolls, and crossbills—are popular among GBBC participants. These birds also “irrupt” south of their usual haunts depending on food supplies, so their numbers in a given region may change widely from year to year.
2015 was a banner year for Pine Siskins which are reported on 10.5% of GBBC checklists so far. Compare that to 1.2% of checklists in 2014 when most siskins stayed far north in Canada. Siskins will likely be hanging around through April and May, especially if the feeders are stocked with their favorite nyjer (thistle) seed.
GBBC  Top 10 Lists
Surprisingly, a Eurasian species, the Brambling, appears on the Top 10 list of most reported species for the first time ever. Since November, some of these birds have been spotted on the West Coast and others strayed even farther by turning up in Montana, Wyoming, and Ontario, with one 2015 GBBC record in North America from Washington state. But the Brambling’s appearance among the Top 10 can be traced to one checklist from Germany reporting a flock estimated at one million birds. Up to three million Bramblings have been known to gather at that site.
In North America, California sits atop the leader board with the most checklists submitted and the greatest number of species, followed by Pennsylvania and New York. Ontario, Canada, is in the Top 10 for the second year in a row, nudging past Ohio and Georgia. In Canada, participation is up in Québec this year largely because of a new eBird portal hosted in partnership between Regroupement QuébecOiseaux and Birds Canada. Quebec residents have submitted 1520 checklists, while last year’s total was 1014. British Columbia participants have the highest species total so far, with 197.
Outside of the U.S. and Canada, India was once again a star performer, nearly doubling the number of checklists submitted to more than 6800 and reporting the greatest number of species so far with 717.
Top 10 most frequently reported species (number of checklists reporting this species):

Species Number of Checklists
Northern Cardinal 59,083
Dark-eyed Junco 59,074
Mourning Dove 48,313
Downy Woodpecker 45,399
Blue Jay 41,671
American Goldfinch 39,880
House Finch 39,241
Tufted Titmouse 38,191
Black-capped Chickadee 36,363
House Sparrow 34,564

* All Top 10 species are North American, reflecting high participation from this region.
Top 10 most numerous species (sum of how many individuals were observed across all checklists):

Species Number of Individuals
Snow Goose 1,494,937
Canada Goose 1,110,946
Brambling 1,000,047
European Starling 630,610
Mallard 579,330
American Coot 501,152
American Robin 488,063
Dark-eyed Junco 465,939
Red-winged Blackbird 432,513
American Goldfinch 364,963

* All Top 10 species are North American, reflecting high participation from this region.
Top 10 states/provinces by checklists submitted

State/Province Number of Species Number of Checklists
California 376 8453
Pennsylvania 141 7120
New York 163 6615
Florida 309 5478
Texas 366 5256
Virginia 180 4672
North Carolina 201 4497
Ontario 137 4216
Ohio 125 4190
Georgia 200 4017

Top Canadian provinces/territories by checklists submitted

Province Checklists Species
Ontario 4218 137
British Columbia 2007 197
Quebec 1520 100
Alberta 727 86
Manitoba 674 60
Nova Scotia 501 104
New Brunswick 280 75
Saskatchewan 222 48
Newfoundland and Labrador 188 78
Prince Edward Island 110 60
Yukon Territory 28 23
Northwest Territories 15 15
Nunavut 7 1

Top 10 countries by checklists submitted

Country Number of Species Number of Checklists
United States 671 108,396
Canada 241 10,491
India 717 6810
Australia 524 812
Mexico 653 425
Costa Rica 559 303
Portugal 197 193
New Zealand 126 161
Ecuador 784 138
Honduras 353 133

Explore what’s been reported on the Great Backyard Bird Count website. See what species are being reported and how many checklists are being turned in at the county, state/province, and country levels. Check out a sampling of the photos submitted for the GBBC photo contest.
The GBBC is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

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