Dallas County Christmas Bird Count yields interesting data

An eastern blue bird was among the 37 species observed in the annual Dallas County Christmas Bird Count.

I met with three other birders, Sue Schulteis, Ben Case and his 10-year-old son Emery, before sunrise at Voas Wildlife Area near Minburn Saturday, Dec. 19. Along with 23 other birders spread across the county, we were taking part in the annual Dallas County Christmas Bird Count (CBC).

Observations were made at Voas as well as the Kuehn Conservation Area, Hanging Rock Park, Adel Island Park, Brenton Arboretum and various cemeteries in the county.

The Christmas Bird Count is sponsored by the National Audubon Association, the Dallas County Conservation Department and the Raccoon River Watershed Association. Mike Havlik and Lee Searles were the coordinators. They organized the bird watchers into five groups to cover the county and gave the necessary instructions for recording birds that were observed.

The Dallas County CBC was started 40 years ago by Bob Meyers from Dallas County Conservation Department and the late Tom Lawson of Adel.

The National Christmas Bird Count is much older. It was begun 116 years ago by Fred Chapman. He organized a few bird watchers in 25 locations from Canada to California to record their findings and send them to one central location for scientific analysis.

Since that time, participation in the CBC has been growing. The event is held every year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. It is not simply a species tally, but all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the area that day.

The Dallas County birders made some interesting observations this year. A total of 19 bald eagles were seen. Six were observed feeding on one deer carcass.

Several species were spotted that normally have left central Iowa by this time of year, such as a belted kingfisher, a yellow-bellied sap sucker, a yellow-rumped warbler, a golden-crowned kinglet and eight trumpeter swans.

The observers were surprised to see large flocks of eastern bluebirds and American robins. These birds are probably still in the area because of the warm fall weather and the abundance of their needed food.

There were some birds that seemed to have much lower numbers than normal, such as pheasants, kestrels, doves, tit mice, tree sparrows, cardinals and gold finches. And some birds that the birders expected to see were not observed, such as turkeys, quail, Cooper’s hawks and red-headed woodpeckers.

There are many factors that affect bird populations, such as habitat loss, weather and long term changes in the climate. Also, the birders might have missed seeing some of the birds.

The Dallas County count and the results of others from around Iowa will be made publicly available at a later date. The Christmas Bird Counts that are held across the U.S. are important. The data collected is a source of information for ornithologists and conservation biologists who study how birds are faring across the country and to see if conservation practices or hunting laws need to be changed.

If you are interested in birding and would like to take part in a national event, the Great Backyard Bird Count will be held on President’s Day weekend in February 2016. For more information, go to the National Audubon Society’s website or contact Mike Havlik at the Dallas County Conservation Department at 515-465-3577.

A total of 37 species were recorded. Some high numbers of observed birds in Dallas County:
  • 19 bald eagles,
  • 49 eastern bluebirds,
  • 879 American robins.
These birds had lower counts that expected:
  • 9 ringed neck pheasants,
  • 5 kestrels,
  • 4 mourning doves,
  • 3 titmice,
  • 69 American tree sparrows,
  • 59 northern cardinals,
  • 45 American gold finches,
  • 12 purple finches.
This is the complete list of observed birds at the 2015 Dallas County Christmas Bird Count:
  • American crow 22
  • European starling 100+
  • Black-capped chickadee 11
  • White-breasted nuthatch 15
  • Blue Jay 6
  • Downey woodpecker 8
  • American robin 50+
  • American goldfinch 11
  • Canada geese 20
  • Cedar waxwing 6
  • Red-bellied woodpecker 7
  • Northern cardinal 4
  • Eastern bluebird 13
  • American tree sparrow 15
  • Red-tailed hawk 3
  • Ringed-necked pheasant 3
  • Sharp-shinned hawk 1
  • Hairy woodpecker 2
  • Trumpeter swan 3
  • American kestrel 1
  • Bald eagle 4
  • Tufted titmouse 2
  • House finch 3
  • Song sparrow 3


  1. The list above is a listing of the birds recorded just at the Voas Nature Area.
    It is not the entire list of the birds seen across the county.


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