Nebraska Ornithologists' Union



Don Paseka

Date of this Version



Paseka, "2015–2016 Christmas Bird Counts," from Nebraska Bird Review (March 2016) 84(1).


Copyright 2016 Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union. Used by permission.


Fifteen counts were held during the 2015–16 Christmas Bird Count season, which is one more than last season when the Harrison count was canceled. The Grand Island count was held on December 12, two days prior to the start of the officially sanctioned CBC time slot, but its results are included in this discussion.

Ten of the counts were done on or before December 22 under mild conditions with little snow cover and mostly to entirely open water. While the weather became more seasonable toward the end of the period, it was still fairly benign. As a result, most of the circles had considerable open water and it was an excellent year for many species associated with water. Several circles produced new high species counts and netted a total of 147 species for all counts, second only to 2010 when 149 species were tallied. While not a record, the total of 236,647 individuals is quite respectable, and six counts exceeded 80 species.

Sixteen species set new or tied previous high counts, including the first ever Red-throated Loon at Lake McConaughy and three Common Ravens visiting some of the dining establishments in North Platte. The number of species (11) which were counted in every circle was below last year's number (19). Thirty-four species were found in only one circle and 19 of those were single birds. As would be expected with ample open water, Anseriformes were well represented with 29 total species plus a Mallard × American Black Duck hybrid found at Lake McConaughy. Many of the expected waterfowl were found in high numbers. The 206 Northern Shovelers found this year were only slightly behind the 207 counted in 2002. The 86 Greater Scaup counted were second only to the 123 found in 2004, and this year's total of 326 Canvasbacks is second only to the 337 found in 2011. The 424 Buffleheads lag behind the 843 found in 2001, and the 51 Hooded Mergansers were only out-numbered in 2012 when 90 were counted.

Scottsbluff continues to be the White-crowned Sparrow capital of Nebraska CBCs. After last year's surprising total of 254 birds in that circle, they came up with 446 this year. That number alone would have topped the previous high count 407 for all circles combined, but with a little help from eight other circles the new high count for White-crowned Sparrows is 571.

The last two species to discuss here are problematic since they are indistinguishable from each other in the field except by song. There were a record number (1,832) of meadowlarks found during this count period, and none of them were recorded as eastern: 127 of them were recorded as western and 1,705 of them were unidentified as to species. When looking at this and past years’ count data, it is obvious that some counts identify only singing birds to species, while others apparently discount the unlikely possibility that the nonvocal birds could be eastern and record them all as western.