Annual Christmas bird counts add to knowledge of bird population trends

Photo by USFWS • A total of 15 Pileated Woodpeckers were counted during recent Christmas Bird Counts conducted at Roan Mountain and Elizabethton by the Elizabethton Bird Club. The Great Peak is the largest peak in the area. Sixteen of these woodpeckers were found during the Elizabethton Christmas Bird Count. Six tall woodpeckers were found on the Roan Mountain CBC.

By Bryan Stevens

The first Christmas bird counts were conducted on Christmas Day (December 25), 1900. The annual census grew out of a proposal made by famed ornithologist Frank M. Chapman. According to, these annual counts, conducted across the country, have provided a wealth of data over the past century.

CBC observations have helped Audubon researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies, and others interested in studying the health and long-term status of bird populations in North America. North. Combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, the data provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed over time and space over the past hundred years.

The Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society, also known as the Elizabethton Bird Club, has a long history of participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count. In fact, the club ran two different counts – one for Elizabethton and another for Roan Mountain – for decades. The 2021 CBC marked 79 uninterrupted years of running a CBC for Elizabethton. The club also held 69 Roan Mountain CBCs, but bad weather on the unpredictable Roan forced the cancellation of this annual tally on a few occasions.

Many of the birds found in these two winter surveys can also be found in other counties in northeast Tennessee and western North Carolina.


Elizabethton’s 79th consecutive Christmas Bird Count took place on Saturday, December 18, with 27 observers divided into seven parties. The counters counted 69 species of birds, which is lower than the recent 30-year average of 73 species. The absolute record was 85 species recorded in 2017.

The weather on the day of the count, light rain for much of the day, contributed significantly to the drop in the total. Few ducks due to a mild season was also a factor.

Species most absent included double-crested cormorant, turkey vulture, palm’s warbler, white-crowned sparrow, eastern meadowlark, common grackle, and brown-headed cowbird. Several species were found in low numbers, also largely due to rain.

The roster for Elizabethton CBC follows:

Canada goose, 562; Mallard, 162; redhead, 11; Ring-necked Duck, 1; small tourniquet, 179.

wild turkey, 31; common loon, 2; Pied-billed Grebe, 7; horned grebe, 20; and the great blue heron, 19.

Black Vulture, 1; sharp-shinned hawk, 2; Cooper’s hawk, 10; bald eagle, 3; red-shouldered hawk, 1; red-tailed hawk, 4; and American Kestrel, 12.

Killdeer, 3; Wilson’s snipe, 1; ring-billed gull, 1; rock dove, 329; Eurasian collared dove, 1; and Mourning Dove, 205.

Eastern Screech-Owl, 4; great horned owl, 1; barred owl, 1; and belted kingfisher, 14.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, 36; yellow-bellied woodpecker, 12; minor peak, 25; hairy woodpecker, 6; Northern Flicker, 23; and Pileated Woodpecker, 16;

Oriental Phoebe, 16 years old; blue jay, 182; american crow, 373; and the big raven, 6.

Carolina Chickadee, 145; bushy tit, 99; white-breasted nuthatch, 13; red-breasted nuthatch, 1; and brown liana, 4.

winter wren, 6; Carolina Wren, 110; golden-crowned kinglet, 29; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 20; Eastern Bluebird, 128; hermit thrush, 4; and the American robin, 443.

Catbird, 1; brown thrasher, 3; Mockingbird, 69 years old; European starling, 1,110; cedar waxwing, 120; orange-crowned warbler, 1; and yellow-rumped warbler, 176.

Eastern Tohi, 13; house sparrow, 3; field sparrow, 19; fox sparrow, 1; song sparrow, 193; marsh sparrow, 3; white-throated sparrow, 62; dark junco, 48; and cardinal north, 176

Red-winged Blackbird, 5; house finch, 57; Goldfinch, 83; and house sparrow, 16.

Observers of this count were Fred Alsop, Rob Armistead, Judith Baird, Jerry Bevins, Tammy Bright, Kevin Brooks, Cade Campbell, Debi and JG Campbell, Catherine Cummins, Harry Lee Farthing, Dave Gardner, David and Connie Irick, Rick and Jacki Knight, Roy Knispel, Vern Maddux, Tom McNeil, Brookie and Jean Potter, Pete Range, Judi Sawyer, Bryan Stevens, Kim Stroud, Scott Turner and Charlie Warden.


Roan Mountain’s 69th Christmas Bird The count took place on Sunday, December 19, with seven observers divided into three count groups participating in the event.

Participants counted 53 species, well above the recent 30-year average of 46 species. The absolute record for this number was 55 species found in 1987.

The weather was slightly better than the day before at CBC Elizabethton, but conditions remained overcast with occasional spells of fog, with colder and windier spells.

The Roan Mountain CBC observers were Fred Alsop, Kevin Brooks, Cade Campbell, Rick Knight, Roy Knispel, Tom McNeil and Judi Sawyer.

The roster for the Roan Mountain CBC follows:

Canada goose, 77; american black duck, 9; mallard, 1; small withers, 23 years old; crowned merganser, 3; and the Pied-billed Grebe, 2.

great blue heron, 2; black vulture, 9; turkey vulture, 50; red-tailed hawk, 2; and american kestrel, 1.

Rock pigeon, 33 years old; Mourning Dove, 42; Barred Owl, 2; and belted kingfisher, 5.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, 7; yellow-bellied woodpecker, 7; minor peak, 6; Northern Flicker, 5; and great woodpecker, 6.

Oriental Phoebe, 11 years old; blue jay, 41; American crow, 256; and common raven, 20.

Carolina Chickadee, 61; tufted titmouse, 25; red-breasted nuthatch, 20; white-breasted nuthatch, 18; and brown liana, 3.

Wren, 1; Carolina Wren, 31; golden-crowned kinglet, 15; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1; Eastern Bluebird, 21; hermit thrush, 3; American robin, 332; Mockingbird, 5; Starling, 121; cedar waxwing, 13; and the yellow-rumped warbler, 1.

Eastern tohi, 3; field sparrow, 40 years old; fox sparrow, 1; song sparrow, 116; marsh sparrow, 3; White-throated Sparrow, 5; Slate Junco, 150; and cardinal north, 48.

House finch, 34 years old; crossbill, 5; pine siskin, 2; American Goldfinch, 31; and house sparrow, 4.


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