The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count took place today. Sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the project is designed to monitor the population of wintering birds in an effort to identify the impact that disease or environmental factors may be having on various avian species. Our group of four was assigned an area between Columbia and Ashland, stretching eastward from the Missouri River. This region is characterized by rolling farmlands, forested hills and riparian woodlands. It was a very mild day, with cloudy skies and a high in the low sixties; however, a steady south wind blew throughout the day and, as most birders know, wind keeps birds in protected areas (and out of sight).
Nevertheless, we saw a fair number of species, with crows, starlings, red-winged blackbirds and, somewhat surprisingly, eastern bluebirds topping the list. The usual mix of common birds, such as red-tailed hawks, cardinals, flickers, red-bellied woodpeckers, chickadees and blue jays, were found in expected numbers. However, ground feeders, including sparrows, juncos and mourning doves, were significantly reduced and we wondered if the recent heavy snow had forced many to leave the area. Highlights of the day included bald eagles, a barred owl and a red-shouldered hawk.