Fewer birds migrating through Pennsylvania this year could be a good thing
There’s no doubt the weather has been crazy this year. What began as an unusually mild fall and winter quickly escalated to record-breaking snowfall in my neck of the woods during a weekend-long blizzard that rocked southern Pennsylvania.
According to several waterfowlers, there were considerably fewer birds migrating this year. Aside from one duck hunt in early January, when I saw more birds flying than ever before (including multiple black ducks), I too, must admit it otherwise seemed like less air traffic this year.
Even the local Christmas Bird Count circle near my home, conducted by the Quittapahilla Audubon Society, recorded below average numbers this year. Count coordinator, Fritz Heilman, recently weighed in on the results.
“The total species count this year was 76 (down from the record of 83, recorded in 2007 & 2012 – with a prior 10-year average of 78). The total individual count was 9,629 (well below the record of 30,684 recorded in 2008 – with a prior 10-year average of 13,837),” Heilman explained.
“We had only three species with counts reaching the highest total for the 36-year history of the Lebanon CBC. Those were 10 yellow-bellied sapsuckers, 118 American robins, and two peregrine falcons. No new species were observed, while Canada geese and American crows were notably recorded in low numbers,” Heilman said.
This got me thinking – perhaps fewer birds this year isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering the looming threat of Avian influenza we were warned about in late summer. My hope, at least, is that the wacky weather kept more birds from migrating, and thus helped isolate the problem instead of spreading the disease to areas not previously affected.
Of course, more disease could also explain the dwindling number of birds observed, but I’m really hoping that isn’t the case. Chances are, the birds simply chose not to travel as far or as often this year because food was in plentiful supply.
If bagging fewer geese this season due to a lack of migration means a healthier, more productive outlook for future Pennsylvania bird populations, that’s certainly a pill worth swallowing. Fewer birds could be a good thing after all, as nature often has its own way of taking care of business.