’19 GBBC Count: Day 4

Today was the final day of the Great Backyard Bird Count. I went back to Haddon Lake Park; this time with my mom and sister. Haddon Lake Park is a GBBC tradition, so I’m glad I was able to go there twice this weekend.

Haddon Lake Park, Mt. Ephraim/Audubon, NJ (9 species, 245 individual birds)

  • 90 Canada Geese
  • 50 Mallard
  • 32 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 Downy Woodpecker
  • 1 American Crow
  • 4 Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • 40 European Starling
  • 2 Song Sparrow
  • 25 Red-winged Blackbird

We had the opportunity to watch a Mallard pair demonstrating a courtship display.

We observed an interesting looking Mallard. It seems like it can be a possible hybrid. Mallard mixed with Green-winged Teal or American Wigeon? The world may never know…it was interesting nonetheless. (Let me know who you think it is…)

We had an amazing Great Backyard Bird Count weekend! We saw 19 more species than 2018 as well as about 700 more individual birds. Here are the official Team BirdNation numbers for 2019:

  • 6 birding locations
  • 1 life list bird: Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • 52 different species
  • 1,505 individual birds (estimate)

Did you participate in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count? Tell me your favorite birding moment from the weekend in the comments!

To see learn what we saw on Days 3 and 4 of the 2018 GBBC (including a rare life list bird!), click here.

’19 GBBC Day 3: To the Shore

Dave and I made our way out to the Jersey Shore today for the Great Backyard Bird Count. We went birding at two locations: Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on LBI and Cloverdale Farm Park in Barnegat. We added a new bird to our life list: the Red-breasted Nuthatch. I went to Cloverdale last week with my mom and sister to look for the Red-breasted Nuthatch, but we didn’t find it (however, we did see Pine Siskins, a lifer for us!)

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, Barnegat Light, NJ (20 species, 461 individual birds)

  • 42 Brant
  • 3 Greater Scaup (1 male, 2 females)
  • 3 Common Eiders
  • 15 Harlequin Ducks (mostly male)
  • 30 Black Scoters
  • 45 Long-tailed Ducks
  • 10 Bufflehead
  • 13 Red-breasted Mergansers
  • 3 Ruddy Turnstones
  • 1 Sanderling
  • 85 Dunlin
  • 25 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 136 Herring Gulls
  • 26 Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 1 Red-throated Loon
  • 14 Common Loons
  • 6 Double-crested Cormorants
  • 1 Merlin
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 1 Savannah Sparrow

Bonus find: 6 Seals!

Cloverdale Farm County Park, Barnegat, NJ (16 species,45 individual birds)

  • 2 Mallards (male/female)
  • 1 Bufflehead
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 3 Carolina Chickadee
  • 3 Tufted Titmouse
  • 2 Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • 4 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 1 Brown Creeper
  • 5 Eastern Bluebird
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 1 House Finch
  • 1 American Goldfinch
  • 16 Dark-eyed Junco
  • 2 White-throated Sparrows
  • 1 Pine Warbler
  • 1 Northern Cardinal
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Image by David Horowitz)

It’s always a pleasure visiting the Jersey Shore. Tomorrow is the last day of the 2019 GBBC. Stay tuned!

’19 Great Backyard Bird Count: Day 2

Day 2 of the Great Backyard Bird Count was twice as nice because we went birding at 2 locations!

It was 45 degrees with a cold breeze; much more seasonal than yesterday’s warm weather. Our first stop was Haddon Lake Park in Audubon, NJ, followed by Palmyra Cove in Palmyra, NJ. We saw 32 species today, adding 8 new species to the total GBBC so far.

At Haddon Lake, Dave spotted some banded Mallards. I was able to get some pictures of the bands and reported them at reportband.gov. This website is run by USGS (United States Geological Survey) and the link leads to Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory. We were able to learn around where the Mallard was banded, by who, and its age.

USGS Banding Information (Image by BirdNation)

Haddon Lake Park, Audubon, NJ (10 species, 188 individual birds)

  • 80 Canada Geese
  • 45 Mallards
  • 1 Mourning Dove
  • 35 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 10 American Crows
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 2 European Starlings
  • 12 Red-winged Blackbirds

Palmyra Cove Nature Park, Palmyra, NJ (22 species, 302 individual birds)

  • 10 Canada Geese
  • 9 Mallards
  • 17 American Black Ducks
  • 15 Green-winged Teal
  • 17 Bufflehead
  • 2 Common Merganser
  • 5 Mourning Doves
  • 147 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 1 Turkey Vulture
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 1 Belted Kingfisher
  • 2 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Northern Flicker
  • 5 American Crows
  • 4 Carolina Chickadees
  • 2 Brown Creepers
  • 5 Carolina Wrens
  • 14 American Robins
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 17 Dark-eyed Juncos
  • 25 White-throated Sparrow
  • 1 Northern Cardinal

Tomorrow we are heading out to the Jersey Shore to see who we can find.

Check out what we saw last year on day 2 of the 2018 GBBC here.

What did you see on the 2nd day of the Great Backyard Bird Count? Tell us in the comments.

’19 Great Backyard Bird Count: Day 1

Today is the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count!

We had a lovely day today in New Jersey. The temperature was around 60 degrees with a slight breeze. It was the perfect weather to kick off this year’s count. Dave and I spent our first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count at Amico Island in Delanco, NJ. We’ve been to Amico Island countless times over the years, but today we took a new trail that brought us along the water’s edge. It’s always fun discovering “new” trails at familiar parks.

Amico Island (23 species, 264 individual birds)

  • 20 Canada Geese
  • 9 Mallards
  • 3 Green-winged Teals
  • 2 Hooded Mergansers (male/female pair)
  • 19 Common Mergansers
  • 2 Mourning Doves
  • 120 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 8 Herring Gulls
  • 9 Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 10 Great Blue Herons
  • 5 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Hairy Woodpecker
  • 3 Carolina Chickadees
  • 1 Tufted Titmouse
  • 4 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 3 Carolina Wrens
  • 8 American Robins
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird
  • 2 European Starlings
  • 4 Dark-eyed Juncos
  • 15 White-throated Sparrows
  • 1 Red-winged Blackbird
  • 4 Northern Carindals

This year’s bird count is already off to a get start! Tomorrow we are heading over to Palmyra Cove.

Did you participate in the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count? Tell me about it in the comments.

Amico Island 2-15-19 (Image by BirdNation)

Love Birds…or not?

You’ve probably seen an image like this before, especially around Valentine’s Day:

Mute Swans forming a “heart” with their heads. The perfect image of love. Or is it? It’s not as simple as you might think.

When you see a bird with its mate, you might assume that those birds are just mates with each other. Sometimes that’s true, the bird pair you’re watching may be monogamous. However, there is actually a wide variety of avian mating systems, so things are usually not as they seem on the surface.

Wood Duck pair (Image by BirdNation)

3 main types of avian mating systems include social monogamy, polyandry, and polygyny. These systems can be broken down even further, with multiple categories for each system. We aren’t going to go too far into specifics today, but here’s a quick overview of some of the avian mating systems.

Social Monogamy

In social monogamy, one female will form a pair bond with one male. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the pair is mated for life. The pair bond may last only one or several breeding seasons. In the social monogamy system, females may copulate with other males. This means within a clutch of chicks, some chicks may have different fathers. About 92% of bird species are considered monogamous, but it’s actually quite rare to find species that practice true genetic monogamy. Genetic monogamous species only have offspring that are within the specific male/female couple.

Common birds that practice social monogamy include Northern Cardinals, Eastern Bluebirds, Black Vultures, and Mute Swans. Examples of genetic monogamous birds include Common Loons, Laysan Albatrosses, and Florida Scrub Jays.

Northern Cardinal male (Image by BirdNation)
Common Loon on land (Image by BirdNation)


In polyandry, during a breeding season a female will accept sperm from multiple males. There are many reasons why a female would want to have sperm from multiple male partners. A female bird’s oviduct has a special sperm storage tubules (SSTs) where sperm can be stored for days to weeks depending on the species. Eggs are only able to be fertilized for a certain period of time. Therefore, by storing sperm, a female would be able to fertilize a clutch of eggs and not have to mate at a particular time to be able to do so. Females who practice polyandry can use this system as a sort of “insurance policy”; a female is more likely to be able to fertilize eggs if one of her partner’s sperm are defective if she mated with multiple males. Other reasons for polyandry include securing more parental care/resources/genetic benefits from secondary partners, or being forced to copulate by sexually aggressive “partners”.

This mating type is only found in about 1% of bird species. Examples of polyandry in bird species include Spotted Sandpipers, Sanderlings , and Wilsons Phalaropes.

Spotted Sandpiper (Image by David Horowitz)
Sanderling (Image by BirdNation)


In polygyny, males are able to have sexual access to two or more females, however a female will only mate with one male. Males of this mating systems may defend valuable resources that will attract several mates as well as try to monopolize potential mates against rival males. Males may also defend a specific territory and try to convince females to visit and mate with him. This tactic is called lek polygyny. Some males in a lek may not mate with any females, while only a few males will mate with most of the females.

Many grassland birds practice polygyny. Examples include Red-winged Blackbirds, Great Sage Grouse, Bobolinks, and Marsh Wrens.

Red-winged Blackbird, Taylor’s Wildlife Preserve (Image by BirdNation)

And if this all wasn’t complicated enough…

…sometimes birds get divorced. Yep, you read that right. Sometimes the breeding season is unsuccessful and each member of the pair will choose to mate with someone else. Sometimes a partner dies and the widow finds a new mate. Whatever the reason, it just goes to show that avian lives are much more complex than we previously knew or imagined.

So what about those Mute Swans we were talking about earlier? Divorce can rarely occur between Mute Swans, but they are generally monogamous. They do tend to form strong pair bonds and work together well as a team. Does that mean Mute Swans are an accurate depiction of true love? Maybe. Or maybe not…you be the judge. It does prove though that the avian social life is complex and fascinating.

Time to Count!

Hi friends! It’s one of the best times of the year…the Great Backyard Bird Count. It’s time to get ready to count some birds.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) occurs every February for four days. This year the count is this weekend, February 15-18. Created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the GBBC was the first online citizen-science project to collect bird data in real time. In 2018, over 6,4000 bird species were recorded in over 100 countries in just four days!

It’s fun and easy to participate:

  • Create an eBird account if you don’t already have one. It’s free and only takes a minute to set up.
  • Go outside for at least 15 minutes and count as many birds as you can identify. You can count anywhere as long as you want.
  • Submit your results on eBird.com. Or use the mobile app to submit your data in real time.

That’s it! By participating, you are helping scientists obtain data to help them track trends in bird populations before spring migration starts.

Team BirdNation participates in the Great Backyard Bird Count every year, and 2019 is no exception. We’ll be bringing you updates on the birds we find throughout the weekend. Hope you can join in the fun!

To find out more info, check out the Great Backyard Bird Count website, gbbc.birdcount.org.

Pacific Loon in NJ

Last weekend, Dave and I went birding at 4 locations searching for waterfowl . One of our locations was Manasquan Inlet, where there was an abundance of loons. Naturally, I just assumed they were all Common Loons, checked out a few, and kept looking for different species. However, when I got home that evening I learned that a Pacific Loon was there when we were. What a bummer! I was annoyed at myself because we could have potentially seen it, but didn’t look hard enough. But it just wasn’t meant to be that day.

Pacific Loons are one of the most abundant North American loons. However, they are considered are rarity in New Jersey because…well…a Pacific Loon should be on the Pacific Coast. This particular loon has been observed all week by numerous birders so I was hoping it would still be there by the time we could go back.

On Sunday February 3, we spent an hour watching at Manasquan Inlet. There were significantly less loons this time…only about 9 compared to about 30 last week. But nobody seemed to have the dusky black chinstrap that distinguishes the nonbreeding Pacific Loon from the nonbreeding Common Loon. We did see a lot of bird around though…Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks, Ring-billed Gulls, a female Common Goldeneye, a Double-crested Cormorant, Ruddy Ducks, and Boat-tailed Grackles. There was even a Harbor Seal hanging around. But after an hour, still no Pacific Loon.

We were watching the seal for awhile, but we had other plans in the afternoon so we decided it was time to go. Sometimes you find the rare bird you’re chasing and sometimes you don’t. On they way back to the car we scanned a few loons that were congregating. Dave noticed one seemed a little smaller/thinner than the others. As we approached it dived underwater, and after a few seconds it popped up in front of us. The Pacific Loon! We could see the black chinstrap clearly. We informed some other birders who were around and we all watched the Pacific Loon for a few minutes. So cool! What an elegant and beautiful bird.

Pacific Loon (Image by BirdNation)

The Pacific Loon and Common Loon in nonbreeding plumage look pretty similar at a glance. However, the Pacific has the black chinstrap, shorter neck, and is slightly smaller (the chinstrap may sometimes not be visible).The Common has a larger, flatter bill and a “collar” around the neck that the Pacific lacks.

Mission accomplished! The rare NJ Pacific Loon is our 3rd life list bird of 2019.