by: Libby Buck, Ecological Stewardship & Research Technician

The Nantucket Christmas Bird Count went off without a hitch despite the addition of COVID-19.  On count day, December 28th, 2020, the island was divided into eight sections.  All the birds seen within that 24-hour period were to be recorded.  There was concern during the planning of the event that we simply would not have enough people out in the field.  Many of the usual Nantucket CBC volunteers come from off island and wouldn’t able to join this year due to travel restrictions. But our Nantucket locals answered the call for help!  We had over 40 local field observer volunteers and all sections of the island were completely covered. The feeder watchers were a tremendous help and far surpassed any previous year’s volunteer watchers. Over 30, of our fellow Nantucketers got out their binoculars and plunked themselves down to watch for our feathered friends at their feeders.  They certainly more than exceeded our expectations.

This year’s Christmas Bird Count recorded a total of 129 species and 4,134 individual birds. The table below summarizes the bird count in past years. Our numbers change dramatically depending on volunteer participation and weather conditions. For example, in 2017, the individual bird count was very low. This was attributed to a cold snap that year and the temperature never went above 21F. Water sources were frozen and food resources were depleted. Every year the Nantucket CBC is unpredictable.  We all cross our fingers for good weather and good bird numbers and this year, 2020, we were fortunate to have both. 

Total results from the last five years of the Nantucket CBC

The species with very high numbers were as follows: 13,933 Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima), 1,305 Red-throated Loons (Gavia stellate), 92 Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura), a large flock of 40 Purple Sandpipers (Calidris maritima) & large flocks that totaled 123 Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra).

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature, text that says 'kindflow'
Purple Sandpipers seen at the Jetties beach.
Photo: Kindflow Productions

Rare sightings for the day included 1 American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea), 1Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula), 2Evening Grosbeaks (Coccothraustes vespertinus), 2 Common Gallinules (Gallinula galeata), 1Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla), 1 Audubon’s Warbler (Setophaga auduboni), and 1 Yellow Rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis).  

Adult and juvenile Common Gallinule seen at Miacomet Pond
Photo: Libby Buck

The owling was also very successful with 14 Barn Owls (Tyto alba), 1 Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), 3 Long-eared Owls (Asio otus), and 10 Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus). 

Snowy Owl on Coatue
Photo: Libby Buck

Since the birds aren’t dependable to show up on the day of the count, there is a buffer period of three days before and after the count day, called the “count week.” The count week birds included a Northern Parula (Setophaga americana), a Northern Waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis), and a Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea). The Sooty Shearwater almost didn’t make the list. It was seen by a birder leaving on the ferry, the sighting was just outside the harbor so it made the cut! 

For more information on the 2020 Nantucket Christmas Bird Count, please check out our presentation on YouTube that features the highlights from the count, thanks to the University of Massachusetts Field Station, Nantucket Conservation Foundation, and our CBC fearless leader Edie Ray.

Save the date! January 2, 2022 is the next Nantucket Christmas Bird Count. If you would like to volunteer or have questions please email

Nantucket CBC Team Leaders for 2020

Without the efforts of the volunteers, compilers, and coordinators these Christmas Bird Counts would not be a reality. Many thanks to everyone that was involved. GREAT JOB!

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