'Average' bird count called good sign
By Mary Ann Thomas
Published: Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, 12:16 a.m.
Two bald eagles circling over a nesting site in Harmar and volunteers counting tens of thousands of crows in Pittsburgh were among the highlights of the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count in Pittsburgh and northern Allegheny County.
About 150 participants turned out to tally 67 species of birds and more than 45,500 individuals in a count circle with a 15-mile diameter centered in Shaler.
More than 2,300 groups nationwide have been holding Christmas bird counts on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Pittsburgh's count was on Saturday, while other counts in the region have been held in the last two weeks, with an upcoming count scheduled for this weekend in a section of Butler County.
The bird count is the annual census of birds — the oldest volunteer biological survey in the world — documenting population trends and changes in the environment.
“All of the common species were found,” said Brian Shema, the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count coordinator and operations manager for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, headquartered at Beechwood Farms in Fox Chapel.
“Even though this was an average count, that's not a bad thing,” he said. “It means that we're maintaining our bird population.”
The most noteworthy rarity was a black vulture spotted in Franklin Park, a first-time sighting for the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count, although the bird has been recorded in the region about a dozen times in recent years. The black vulture has been expanding its range to southwestern Pennsylvania and is a scavenger like the turkey vulture, which is more common here.
The number of birds found on the water in the Pittsburgh area was low for the count as area ponds and small waterways were frozen.
But on the Allegheny and other rivers, volunteers counted four bald eagles, two of them in Harmar flying around a nest above Route 28, where both birds courted last year but did not lay eggs.
Another popular predatory bird, the state-endangered peregrine falcon was recorded in Oakland and at Duck Hollow near the Homestead Grays Bridge.
The most populous bird in Pittsburgh — which was not the case with other bird count circles in the region — was the crow. Volunteers carefully counted more than 32,000 in the city. There were about 14 times more crows than the next most populous species for the Pittsburgh count, the European starling, which numbered about 2,300, according to Shema.
The next most populous birds were the Canada goose at almost 900; the rock pigeon at almost 800, and the American robin at about 680.
The count of the roosting city crows is the highest total that the local Audubon Society has tallied for the Christmas Bird Count.
Shema said he isn't sure whether there are more crows or bird count participants are getting better at counting the unwieldy number of birds, which have been roosting in large numbers in the city for years.
Audubon volunteers and bird experts alike scouted the crows the evening before the count. On count day, they had to position themselves strategically to count the birds as they streamed in from satellite locations for a huge roost in Pittsburgh's West End.
Large crow roosts are found across the country and in urban areas.
“We can assume that anytime birds are in flocks, there is safety in numbers,” Shema said.
According to a recent Penn State study, these large flocks of crows seem to be drawn to roosting sites where there is light pollution, according to Shema.
“The birds might have a higher sense of security there,” he said.
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- With no money for upkeep, Prospect Cemetery Association board to disband
- Oakmont Bakery owner eyes expansion
- Student artwork covers walls of Harmar Township Municipal Building
- Wreck closed Leechburg Road in Lower Burrell early Friday
- Tarentum robbery victim chooses not to shoot suspect; 2 in jail
- New Kensington-Arnold board debates dress code
- Brackenridge may be required by law to maintain cemetery