Not all smiles on annual bird count in Starved Rock State Park

Steve Gillam, Starved Rock volunteer Tom Williams and Starved Rock State Park natural resource coordinator Lisa Sons exchanged jokes and friendly chitchat as they trudged over a muddy path along a field edge, wetland and woods at Matthiessen State Park. They were not seeing many birds, despite sunny, breezy conditions and diverse habitat, during their after-lunch hike over their territory in the Starved Rock Audubon Society Christmas bird count. And they said they had not seen many birds in the morning among the oak trees and canyons in the Matthiessen Dells area.

They were surprised that they didn’t see a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a hairy woodpecker or any red-headed woodpeckers, even though the oak-filled lawn was prime habitat. They had seen red-bellied woodpeckers and large pileated woodpeckers, Audubon Society Christmas bird counts have been showing a decline in red-headed woodpecker numbers in the U.S. northwest of the Ohio River for several years now.

Though they were having a pleasant time on the New Year’s hike, the birders also expressed concerns. “This year altogether we’ve noticed how quiet it is,” Williams said. He has participated in the bird count hikes, comprised of three days of counting, since 1969, when he first participated at age 12 with his father, Jerry. Sons discussed stories, studies and statistics she has seen from the national Audubon Society about a crash in bird populations nationwide and worldwide.

During the hike, Gillam started talking about a study that indicated some sparrows that came into contact with insect-repelling neonicotinoid, used to pretreat corn and soybean seed, had their appetites suppressed before migrating. The sparrows in the study departed two or three days late on migration, and then have difficulty completing migration or could arrive late and not find mates. (Makers of the pretreatment coating, Bayer, refute claims that their product is a factor in population decline.)

Source: News Tribune, Jan 6, 2020…