Hi All, 

Those of you who are Cayuga Bird Club members may have seen an article in 
January’s newsletter that was based on my quick report (below) about the Ithaca 
Christmas Bird Count compilation on the evening of January first. I gave the 
editor permission to use my report, with which he rapidly completed and sent 
out the newsletter later that same evening after a long day of birding. My name 
was on the article, but I did not write the paragraph which incorrectly stated 
that there were no Kestrels reported. However, I did hear some comments from 
the audience about the numbers of small falcons, as was mentioned in that 

As with many species this year, there was a low count of 2 American Kestrels. 
Then the next species on the list, the closely related Merlin, had one of the 
very few record high counts, a total of 5 birds. Lab Director John Fitzpatrick 
recalled when Kestrels were common and Merlins were a rarity. 

It was at least ironic to see this contrast. Were we seeing two population 
trend lines crossing as Kestrels decline and Merlins increase? If so, what is 
the relationship? 

Here’s my thoughts: First, it’s hard to draw firm conclusions from such small 
numbers. But Ithaca’s trends may well show up on other counts.

Second, perhaps even those numbers need scrutiny. There were 2 Kestrels 
reported, 1 from Area 4 and 1 from Area 5. I think I heard Area 5 Leader Sandy 
Podulka say that their Kestrel was from Boiceville. I take that to mean 
Boiceville Rd, which extends less than a mile south from Slaterville Rd. The 
border between Areas 4 & 5 is Slaterville Rd. I don’t know the location for the 
Kestrel from Area 4, but my guess is that a winter territory for a single 
Kestrel might extend from the farm fields and hedges along Boiceville Rd north 
into the southeast corner of Area 4 where there is similar habitat along 
Midline, Slaterville, and Ellis Hollow Roads, allowing a single Kestrel to get 
counted in Area 4 & Area 5. 

The Merlin reports were: 1 from Area 5, 1 from area 7, 2 from area 8, and 1 
from area 9. The only Merlin sighting location I know is Allan Treman State 
Marine Park for Area 7, where a Merlin might easily have its next stop or 
previous stop be across the Inlet in Area 8 or farther north along East Shore 
in Area 9. I suspect that the daily movements of a Merlin might cover a larger 
area than those of a Kestrel. Again, I wonder if 5 Merlins is an overcount.  

I am curious where all the Kestrels and Merlins were reported, so I welcome 
that information.

Even if the numbers get adjusted, I would not be surprised if the local  
Kestrel population is decreasing while the Merlin population is increasing, but 
I don’t see how they would be directly related.

Kestrels are birds of open countryside. Kestrels scan fields and weedy 
roadsides by perching on a wire or snag or hovering against the wind, then drop 
to the ground upon prey such as invertebrates or small mammals. I think the 
trends are for farms to convert hayfields to corn, for hedgerows and snags to 
be torn out, and for farms to be converted to suburbs, which would all be less 
suitable for Kestrels. Kestrels need a tree cavity or a nest box for nesting, 
and suburbanites are more apt to cut down a tree with a hole in it than to 
erect a nest box. I have also noticed that Kestrels are quite wary of people. 
You can drive past one on a wire, but they will flee if you try to take a 
photo. So, it would not surprise me that Kestrels are getting harder to find in 
the Ithaca area, where residential development is booming, and I suspect this 
is a widespread trend. 

Merlins used to be only a rare migrant here. They were birds that bred across 
Canada and wintered along the south and east coasts of the US. We see these 
Merlins accompanying (and trying to eat) the southbound shorebird migration at 
Montezuma NWR. But a few years ago Merlins branched out into a new habitat for 
them across NYS: residential areas. Merlins chase small birds for a living, and 
House Sparrows are a good food source, although other songbirds are fine, too. 
Falcons don’t actually build nests, but Merlins will wait for Crows to build a 
nest high in a tree, then chase off the crows and use the nest to raise their 
own young. And in my experience these Merlins are very tolerant of people 
watching them. Quite a few nests have been documented in the county, so it’s 
not a surprise that we are regularly finding multiple Merlins on the Christmas 
Bird Count. 

Kestrels, like other grassland birds, are in decline. Merlins, adapting to 
human residential areas, have increased and may continue to do so. But I don’t 
think the Merlins are directly competing with and supplanting the Kestrels, 
other than taking advantage of the way people change the habitat. 

That’s my take. I welcome comments from others as well as news about the 
locations of Merlins and Kestrels found on the count. Thanks. 

- - Dave Nutter

> On Jan 1, 2020, at 11:11 PM, Dave Nutter <nutter.d...@me.com> wrote:
> Here’s a brief run-down of what was reported at the compilation this evening. 
> Some numbers may be revised. Species only found by a single party I hope to 
> find out where & by whom. Many species had below average numbers. Here are 
> the species that were found, grouped by 5s:
> Canada Goose 2770
> Wood Duck 1 (Scott Sutcliffe et al, somewhere on W side of lake)
> Gadwall 4 (area 9, hoping for details)
> American Black Duck 2 (Dave Nutter, Hog Hole)
> Mallard 458
> 5
> Canvasback 1 (area 9, hoping for details)
> Redhead 3700 (may be kept despite similar number from 3 areas)
> Greater Scaup 5
> Lesser Scaup 6
> White-winged Scoter 1 (Dave Nutter, W side of lake)
> 10
> Long-tailed Duck 2 (area 9, hoping for details)
> Bufflehead 3 (area 8, hoping for details)
> Common Goldeneye 133
> Common Merganser 11
> Hooded Merganser 30
> 15
> Ruddy Duck 6 (possibly same 3 counted from areas 7 & 8)
> Ring-necked Pheasant 1 (by ? on Pheasant Walk, Caroline)
> Ruffed Grouse 6
> Wild Turkey 58
> Common Loon 5
> 20
> Pied-billed Grebe 6
> Red-necked Grebe 1 (Chris Wood, N of E Shore Park)
> Double-crested Cormorant 4 (SE part of Cayuga L)
> Great Blue Heron 2
> Turkey Vulture 67 HIGH
> 25
> Northern Harrier 1 (area 8, hoping for details)
> Sharp-shinned Hawk 5
> Cooper’s Hawk  7
> Bald Eagle 16 (HIGH but may be revised if double-counted)
> Red-tailed Hawk 118
> 30
> Rough-legged Hawk 2
> American Coot 4 (area 8, hoping for details)
> Ring-billed Gull 458
> Herring Gull 1084
> Lesser Black-backed Gull 1 (at Cornell Compost & Stewart Park)
> 35
> Great Black-backed Gull 133
> Rock Pigeon 1286
> Mourning Dove 439
> Eastern Screech-Owl 22
> Great Horned Owl 5
> 40
> Barred Owl 2
> Belted Kingfisher 5
> Red-bellied Woodpecker 251
> Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1 (by ? at Kendal)
> Downy Woodpecker 390
> 45
> Hairy Woodpecker 148
> Northern Flicker 21
> Pileated Woodpecker 37
> American Kestrel 2
> Merlin 5 HIGH
> 50
> Eastern Phoebe 1 (by ? near Quarry & Ellis Hollow Rds)
> Blue Jay 1144
> American Crow 1541
> Fish Crow 15
> Common Raven 37
> 55
> Black-capped Chickadee 2078
> Tufted Titmouse 425
> Red-breasted Nuthatch 18
> White-breasted Nuthatch 407
> Brown Creeper 16
> 60
> House Wren 1 (by John Fitzpatrick? location?)
> Winter Wren 2
> Carolina Wren 84
> Golden-crowned Kinglet 52
> Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6 HIGH
> 65
> Eastern Bluebird 54
> American Robin 22
> Gray Catbird 1 (Phil McNeil, Jackie & Patrick Marr on Freeville-Dryden Trail)
> Northern Mockingbird 5
> European Starling 2118 (to be raised)
> 70
> Cedar Waxwing 33
> Snow Bunting 1 (by John Fitzpatrick over Caroline School)
> Yellow-rumped Warbler 7
> American Tree Sparrow 209 (to be raised)
> Chipping Sparrow 2
> 75
> Field Sparrow 3 (area 8, hoping for details)
> Dark-eyed Junco 706
> White-crowned Sparrow 2 (feeder on German Cross Rd)
> White-throated Sparrow 124
> Song Sparrow 89
> 80
> Swamp Sparrow 9
> Northern Cardinal 456
> Red-winged Blackbird 1 (by? near Calkins Rd)
> Brown-headed Cowbird 2
> House Finch 325
> 85
> Purple Finch 5
> Pine Siskin 1 (feeder on Hinging Post Rd)
> American Goldfinch 440
> House Sparrow 498
> 89
> Initial tally was said to be 90 species, so maybe I missed one?
> Species already found during Count Week (29-31 Dec, 2019):
> Red-breasted Merganser (Nutter, SW Cayuga L 31 Dec )
> Others?
> Some species to seek for Count Week (2-4 Jan, 2020):
> Greater White-fronted Goose
> Snow Goose
> Cackling Goose
> Mute Swan family of 3 if they enter count circle near Myers
> Tundra Swan
> American Wigeon
> Northern Shoveler
> Northern Pintail
> Green-winged Teal
> Ring-necked Duck
> Tufted Duck
> Surf Scoter
> Black Scoter
> Red-throated Loon
> Horned Grebe
> Wilson’s Snipe
> Bonaparte’s Gull
> Iceland Gull
> Glaucous Gull
> Long-eared Owl
> Short-eared Owl
> Peregrine Falcon
> Northern Shrike
> Horned Lark
> Hermit Thrush
> American Pipit
> Lapland Longspur
> Fox Sparrow
> Savannah Sparrow
> Eastern Towhee
> Eastern Meadowlark
> Rusty Blackbird
> Common Grackle
> Common Redpoll
> - - Dave Nutter


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