Weather is everything for 2023 Willmar Area Christmas Bird Count


— December 2023 is going down in the history books as the warmest December in Minnesota history, and the 2023 Willmar Area Christmas Bird Count shows it.

"Open water was abundant on a few of the area's larger lakes," wrote Joel Halbritter and Joel Schmidt, the event's organizers, in their report on the 2023 count.

The open water made a difference. The volunteers spotted 13 different waterfowl species on the count day, which was held Dec. 16. Another five waterfowl species had been observed in the days leading up to Dec. 16, but were not found on the count day, they reported.

This year saw 24 volunteers participate, with 19 taking to the field and eight keeping their eyes on feeders.

This marked the 62nd anniversary of the Willmar Area Christmas Bird Count and the 124th for the National Audubon Society's national count.

The Willmar area count was productive by all measures. The volunteers tallied 9,866 individual birds and 59 total species.

It brings the number of species counted through the years to 117 in the Willmar area.

Three new species were counted and added to the annual bird count records. A white-winged scoter, a double-crested cormorant and a snow goose were observed.

White-winged scoters are at home in the boreal forests of Canada and often observed during migration on Minnesota's North Shore. Double-crested cormorants are summer residents in western Minnesota, but had not been observed as late in the season as the winter bird count. Snow geese migrate through the Dakotas and parts of western Minnesota.

Canada geese represented nearly one half of the birds counted, at 4,597 individual birds.

Also indicative of the mild weather, this year's tally included 750 mallards, 629 common goldeneye, 173 common mergansers and 124 trumpeter swans.

The volunteers counted 1,371 European starling, making the species second only to Canada goose in terms of numbers.

Species counted in the triple digits included rock pigeon (216), bluejays (154), American crows (127), black-capped chickadee (289), white-breasted nuthatch (106), cedar waxwing (119), dark-eyed junco (179), house sparrow (260) and house finch (148).

The organizers thanked the volunteers and the good turnout for making the 2023 bird count another successful citizen science endeavor for the Willmar area. The annual snapshot of bird numbers helps scientists monitoring bird populations in the country.