June 18th , 2012 8:52 am Leave a comment

Feathered Friends: Summer Bird Count locates 114 species


Members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society conducted a Summer Bird Count in Carter County on Saturday, June 9.

Photo Courtesy of Amanda Austwick
This male American Goldfinch perches at the tip of a conifer branch.

Long-time chapter member and count compiler Rick Knight noted that this year’s count was the 19th one since the first Summer Bird Count was conducted in 1992. The count is meant to be an annual event, but there have been some years when the count has not been held.

The count has produced an average of 112 species each year, ranging from a low of 105 species to a high of 118. A total of 21 observers in seven different parties took part in this year’s count and found a total of 114 species.

The European Starling claimed the ranking of most common bird with 384 individuals counted. Other common birds included American Robin (322), Canada Goose (277) and American Crow (191). The count tallied a total of 19 species of warblers with the most common species being the Ovenbird (81) and Hooded Warbler (78).

Knight noted that a combined list of 147 species has been found over the 19-year period. During that span, 81 species have been found every year. An additional 16 species have been missed just three times or less, while another 22 species have occurred no more than three times on the Summer Bird Count.

He also cited some significant misses. For instance, counters failed to find a Green Heron for the first time in the history of the count. Other missed birds included Northern Bobwhite, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Hermit Thrush, Kentucky Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, Summer Tanager and Baltimore Oriole.

Some birds such as Loggerhead Shrike that are present in adjacent counties in the summer have never been found on the Summer Bird Count conducted in Carter County.

The count total is listed below:

Canada Goose, 277; Wood Duck, 43; Mallard, 88; Blue-winged Teal, 1; Ruffed Grouse, 2; and Wild Turkey, 3.

Great Blue Heron, 6; Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 2; Black Vulture, 1; and Turkey Vulture, 33.

Cooper’s Hawk, 2; Red-shoulder Hawk, 1; Broad-winged Hawk, 12; Red-tailed Hawk, 5; and American Kestrel, 2.

Killdeer, 15; American Woodcock, 2; Rock Pigeon, 126; Eurasian Collared-Dove, 1; and Mourning Dove, 90.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 4; Black-billed Cuckoo, 1; Common Nighthawk, 3; Chuck-will’s-widow, 1; and Eastern Whip-poor-will, 9.

Chimney Swift, 77; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 22; Belted Kingfisher, 3; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 7; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 16; Hairy Woodpecker, 5; Northern Flicker, 13; and Pileated Woodpecker, 15.

Eastern Wood-Pewee, 25; Acadian Flycatcher, 36; Alder Flycatcher, 3; Least Flycatcher, 6; Eastern Phoebe, 30; Great Crested Flycatcher, 2; and Eastern Kingbird, 22.

White-eyed Vireo, 3; Blue-headed Vireo, 31; Red-eyed Vireo, 120; Blue Jay, 61; American Crow, 191; and Common Raven, 4.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow, 40; Purple Martin, 14; Tree Swallow, 79; Barn Swallow, 129; and Cliff Swallow, 150.

Carolina Chickadee, 55; Tufted Titmouse, 36; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 16; White-breasted Nuthatch, 26; Brown Creeper, 2; Carolina Wren, 34; House Wren, 26; and Winter Wren, 11.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 15; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 16; Eastern Bluebird, 54; Veery, 46; Wood Thrush, 47; American Robin, 322; European Starling, 384; and Cedar Waxwing, 38.

Ovenbird, 81; Worm-eating Warbler, 9; Louisana Waterthrush, 12; Golden-winged Warbler, 2; Black-and-white Warbler, 29; Common Yellowthroat, 10; Hooded Warbler, 78; American Redstart, 12; Northern Parula, 12; Magnolia Warbler, 2; Blackburnian Warbler, 10; Yellow Warbler, 6; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 46; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 48; Pine Warbler, 2; Yellow-throated Warbler, 7; Black-throated Green Warbler, 28; Canada Warbler, 44; and Yellow-breasted Chat, 7.

Eastern Towhee, 78; Chipping Sparrow, 42; Field Sparrow, 29; Vesper Sparrow, 2; Savannah Sparrow, 2; Song Sparrow, 99; Dark-eyed Junco, 161.

Scarlet Tanager, 38; Northern Cardinal, 104; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 14; Blue Grosbeak, 1; and Indigo Bunting, 118.

Red-winged Blackbird, 53; Eastern Meadowlark, 18; Common Grackle, 119; Brown-headed Cowbird, 14; and Orchard Oriole, 3.

House Finch, 22; Pine Siskin, 3; American Goldfinch, 62; and House Sparrow, 45.


Amanda Austwick of Flag Pond in Unicoi County and Donald Rice of Elizabethton shared photographs with me of American Goldfinches. In the Summer Bird Count, 62 individual American Goldfinches were counted across Carter County.

People who provide feeders are probably familiar with this small finch, which serves as the official state bird of New Jersey, Iowa and Washington.

The foods most favored at feeders include sunflower seeds and thistle seeds. Special mesh feeders or feeders with small seed-dispensing ports are necessary for offering the tiny thistle seeds.

The American Goldfinch is not immune from female Brown-headed Cowbirds slipping an unwanted cowbird egg into a batch of finch eggs. However, the American Goldfinch does not make a successful “foster” parent for the unwanted cowbird hatchling.

In a twist of fate, the American Goldfinch feeds almost exclusively on vegetable matter, which consists mostly of seeds. They even delay their nesting season into late summer to benefit from the ample availability of seeds from such plants as thistles, sunflowers and milkweed. Parents even feed seeds to their young.

It’s that vegetarian diet that young cowbirds cannot handle. In a complete reversal of what usually happens when a cowbird infiltrates a nest, it’s the cowbird hatchling that fails to thrive while its nestmates develop perfectly well with their diet of seeds.

American Goldfinches are somewhat nomadic. Flocks may visit feeders for weeks and then suddenly abandon them in favor of an abundant alternative food source. In such circumstances, simply remain patient. Your goldfinches will eventually return.

The scientific name for this bird is Carduelis tristis, which emphasizes its relationship with other small finches, including the Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch and Lawrence’s Goldfinch.

Carduelis comes from carduus, the Latin word for thistle. The species name, tristis, is Latin for “sorrowful.” Combined together, an adequate translation for the scientific name would be “Sorrowful Thistle Finch.”

The scientific name takes into account the fondness of the American Goldfinch for tiny seeds. Non-scientists also recognized this bird’s preference for the smallest of seeds. Many people in Northeast Tennessee know the American Goldfinch as “Lettuce Bird.” My maternal grandmother, who knew the goldfinch by the name “Lettuce Bird” explained to me that flocks of these birds would feed on the seed of lettuce that had gone to seed in the garden.

Another common name for the American Goldfinch is “Wild Canary,” although they are technically not closely related to true canaries.

As you can see from the photos provided by Amanda and Donald, the male American Goldfinch looks quite dapper in its bright yellow, black and white summer plumage. The female, as if often the case with birds, is a much more drab in appearance. This finch molts in late summer and both females and males adopt a dull olive-green plumage with some faint yellow highlights throughout the winter months.


To share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment, call me at 297-9077 or email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or bstevens@starhq. com. I am also on Facebook.


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