Results are in from the latest Cortez Bird Count, and they reveal some surprises about the feathered folk of Montezuma County.
On Dec. 30, about 30 bird-watching enthusiasts traveled all over Cortez and its surrounding area, counting birds as part of the Audubon Society’s annual data-gathering event. Christmas bird counts, which are held in hundreds of towns around the country, are designed to track migration patterns and other information about North American birds. Participants in Cortez counted 8,941 birds and 81 species, according to organizer Jason St. Pierre.
Those numbers represent a few new records for the Cortez count. St. Pierre said the number of birds spotted this year beat the previous record of 8,090, set in 2013. The number of species was also the second-highest ever, he said, after last year’s 83.
Some familiar faces were missing from the count, though. St. Pierre reported this was the first year birdwatchers didn’t spot a Lewis’ woodpecker in more than a decade, and they also failed to find a mourning dove for the first time since 1992. He said he wasn’t sure why those birds didn’t come to Cortez this Christmas, although he noted that Lewis’s woodpeckers seemed more common in the area during fall.
“As far as the mourning dove, they’re getting displaced by non-native species like the Eurasian collared dove,” he said.
Cortez bird-watchers also saw an unusually low number of pine siskins, a species of finch. Only 14 of the usually common bird were spotted this year, but St. Pierre said its migration cycle makes its presence in Cortez unpredictable from year to year.
The bird counters also saw a few new species this year. It was the first time a greater white-fronted goose or a Barrow’s goldeneye had been seen in Cortez since the bird count started. St. Pierre reported three sightings of the former and two of the latter. Both are waterfowl that are usually more common in the West during summer. St. Pierre said he saw water-loving species of all kinds in large numbers this year.
“There’s more open water, so they don’t have to leave,” he said.
Cortez experienced record-breaking high temperatures in December, and on the day of the bird count the area had not yet seen a major snowfall.
Results from the Audubon Society’s national bird count have not been tallied yet, but according to the society’s website, more than 23 million birds were counted in 903 places around the country.
The next major bird-watching event in Cortez will be the 2018 Ute Mountain Mesa Verde Birding Festival, held on May 9 through 13.