Interesting birds found in Tennessee during GBBC

10:43 am | March 19, 2012

Dean Edwards, a Knoxville birder involved with the Great Backyard Bird Count, recently posted a summary of state results for the annual event on TN-Birds, an email listing that allows birders to communicate with each other about birds and birding.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Robert Burton - Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, such as the individual shown above, found in Memphis during February’s Great Backyard Bird Count represented a notable find in the Volunteer State.

Edwards also made note of the friendly competition between birding groups in different Tennessee cities during the annual GBBC.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Dr. Thomas G. Barnes - The European Starling, perhaps not surprisingly, ranked as the most abundant bird in Tennessee during the recent Great Backyard Bird Count.

“I would be hesitant to say either of the competitive aspects are actually important other than for fostering enthusiasm and participation,” Edwards noted in his post. “Having said that, in some ways, they really are important.”

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/George Gentry - An Osprey grasps a fish on a perch after successfully catching its dinner. The recent Great Backyard Bird Count held in mid-February found several early-arriving Ospreys across Tennessee.

For instance, he noted that the number of species can provide insight into bird diversity and quality of habitat in an area. However, he also pointed out that geography plays a huge role here as well.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Gary Kramer - A Say’s Phoebe, a bird more often found in the western United States, represented an unusual find during the recent GBBC. Birders located the phoebe in a wildlife refuge.

Based on those considerations, Edwards noted that Memphis should (and did) beat Knoxville in this category just due to differences in habitat and location along a major migration corridor.

Edwards explained that the number of checklists can provide some indication of local interest in nature and conservation and ability to engage the community in these interests.

“That can obviously be a huge benefit to conservation efforts in a given area,” he wrote.

As for number of checklists submitted, Knoxville finished first with 173 checklists, beating out Memphis (153), Nashville (128) and Cookeville (69). Maryville came in sixth with 62 checklists submitted for this year’s GBBC.

On a state level, 162,403 birds were counted, 141 species were reported and 2,036 checklists submitted.

The Top 10 species in Tennessee by number of individual birds reported were:

European Starling, 17,134; Sandhill Crane, 15,646; American Robin, 10,167; Northern Cardinal, 9,069; Lesser Scaup, 7,619; American Goldfinch, 7,369; Mourning Dove, 6,375; American Crow, 5,594; Mallard, 4,716; and Canada Goose, 4,385.

The Top 10 species in Tennessee by number of checklists reporting that species included Northern Cardinal, 1,501; Mourning Dove, 1,256; Carolina Chickadee, 1246; Tufted Titmouse, 1,170; Downy Woodpecker, 984; Blue Jay, 944; American Robin, 922; Carolina Wren, 833; American Goldfinch, 817; and American Crow and House Finch, tied at 811.

Edwards posted that some of the noteworthy species reported in Tennessee, including 42 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in Memphis; two Whooping Cranes spotted by members of the Knoxville Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society during a boat trip; two early Ospreys; an early-arriving Greater Yellowlegs; a Rufous Hummingbird in Knoxville; a Say’s Phoebe at Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge; an early-arriving Blue-headed Vireo; early-arriving Purple Martins and Tree Swallows; 215 Rusty Blackbirds and a Common Redpoll in Nashville.

The count also puts a spotlight on the rarity of some birds, including Northern Bobwhite with only 29 reported in the entire state and Loggerhead Shrike, with only 10 of these birds found statewide.


Barbara Lake of Hampton gave me a call last week to report that her Eastern Bluebirds — she has named them Maybelline and Max — are already working at constructing a nest in Barbara’s camera-equipped nesting box.

In a separate email, she wrote that observing the two birds has been like watching “comedy hour.”

First of all, Maybelline has been putting nesting materials into the box, but when she left to get something else, Max removed them!

“She’d come back with more and the box would be empty and he was sitting there all innocent and she got so angry,” Barbara reported. “She chattered at him and chewed him out big time!”

She noted that the pair have been checking out the box for about a month now.

“So I don’t think it’s that he doesn’t like the house,” Barbara wrote in her email.

In fact, he has been defending the house and chased away a Carolina Chickadee that showed too much interest.

“This is the earliest we’ve had bluebirds build a nest, but I have a very frustrated female here,” Barbara wrote. “She brings materials in; he takes them out!”

My own thoughts on Barbara’s bluebirds are that Max will settle down and begin to trust Maybelline with nest construction. The mild weather may just have triggered his hormones a little early, which could be making him a bit jittery like many an expectant father.


I made another sighting of a Ruffed Grouse at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton. It’s the third sighting of a Ruffed Grouse I have made since October of last year. Prior to that, I hadn’t observed any Ruffed Grouse for at least the past couple of years. Since grouse are known to undergo “boom and bust” cycles in their population numbers, I am hopeful that this means the number of these birds is on the increase.


My mom has hosted a Fox Sparrow at her feeders for several days, but the bird always arrived in the morning after I had already left for work. Although I looked in the evenings, it always failed to put in an appearance at that time of day.

Other birds are on the move as well. On a recent afternoon, a pair of Hooded Mergansers made a stopover on a neighbor’s fish pond. Although I wished they had chosen my pond for their brief visit, it was still good to see these ducks after not seeing many waterfowl this winter.


To share a sighting, make a comment or ask a question, give me a call at 297-9077 or send an email to I’m also on Facebook.

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