The 50 most important stories about birds and birdwatchers of 2014

12/30/2014 | 2

2014 in Review_Box

2014 in review, design by Ann Katherine Hagner.

Ice covered the Great Lakes. David Sibley revised his famous field guide. Laura Erickson was honored. And a Massachusetts birder pedaled across the country. Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Tricolored Blackbird, and Red Knot received governmental protections, a Rufous Hummingbird migrated by private jet, and Snowy Owls rang in the New Year.

Yes, indeed, 2014 was quite the year. We reported most of the year’s 50 most important stories, as they happened, here on our website and via our social-media outlets, and we’ll do the same in the year ahead. To stay in the know, check back daily, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are the year’s 50 most important stories about birds and birdwatchers:

January

1. The New Year starts the way the old year ended: with Snowy Owls invading North America. One, pictured below, flew all the way to Florida. Another was captured by a falconer in Wisconsin. A third was hit by a bus in Washington, D.C., rehabilitated, released, and then struck and killed by a vehicle in Minnesota. Many owls were tagged and tracked by Project SNOWstorm.

Snowy Owl on Little Talbot Island State Park, Florida, by geopix.

Snowy Owl on Little Talbot Island State Park, Florida, by geopix.

2. Vowing to travel only by bike, foot, and kayak, Massachusetts birder Dorian Anderson sets out on January 1 on a cross-country self-powered big year to raise money for the American Birding Association and the Conservation Fund. By December 28, he had biked 17,768 miles and recorded 618 bird species, including Red-legged Honeycreeper.

3. Environment Canada announces that domestic cats — pets and free-roaming strays — are the most lethal threat to birds in the country. The animals kill 100-350 million birds in Canada annually, researchers concluded.

4. Our most endangered songbird, Kirtland’s Warbler, is discovered overwintering on a new island in the Bahamas: San Salvador. The tiny island is located 118 miles southeast of Eleuthera, where ornithologists have been studying the warbler since 2002.

5. Researchers with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Migratory Birds report that between 365 and 988 million birds die each year from collisions with buildings, and especially windows.

February

BirdWatching Contributing Editor Laura Erickson

BirdWatching Contributing Editor Laura Erickson

6. Popular tour leader, public speaker, and author Laura Erickson (right) becomes the fourth BirdWatching contributing editor to receive the American Birding Association’s highest honor: the Roger Tory Peterson Award. She writes the column “Attracting Birds” in every issue of BirdWatching.

7. Extreme cold grips the Midwest, and ice covers the Great Lakes — 96 percent of Lake Erie, 95 percent of Lakes Huron and Superior, 82 percent of Lake Michigan, and 43 percent of Lake Ontario — causing Horned and Red-necked Grebes, Common, Hooded, and Red-breasted Mergansers, and other waterfowl to search for open water. Many starve.

8. As many as 142,000 birders in 135 countries record 4,296 species during the Great Backyard Bird Count. February 14-17

March

9. Hawaiian Goose, also known as the Nene, successfully hatches chicks on the island of Oahu for the first time since the 18th century.

David Allen Sibley. Photo by Richard Pasley.

BirdWatching Contributing Editor David Allen Sibley. Photo by Richard Pasley.

10. David Sibley publishes the second edition of his famous guide to birds. “I was already thinking of a revised edition while I was working on the first one,” he told us. Sibley writes and illustrates the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. March 11

11. The Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or Duck Stamp, celebrates its 80th anniversary. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the act into law on March 16, 1934, creating one of the most effective conservation programs in our country’s history.

12. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 304 Whooping Cranes are in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Population, as revealed by surveys conducted on the primary winter grounds in Texas. The estimate includes 39 juveniles. March 17

13. Declaring that a single corn kernel coated with a neonicotinoid is sufficiently toxic to kill a songbird, American Bird Conservancy calls for a ban on the use of the pesticides. March 19

14. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces the listing of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency says it had considered the bird to be in trouble for the past 15 years. March 28

April

15. Novelist, naturalist, and wilderness writer Peter Matthiessen, author of the books The Wind Birds and The Snow Leopard, dies. April 5

16. Ruby, the plucky Red-tailed Hawk that won the affection of birders in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is discovered lifeless under her nest tree. Lab tests would subsequently confirm that she was killed by poisons intended for rats.

Red-tailed Hawks Buzz and Ruby (right) sit on their nest in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in January 2013. Photo by Susan Moses.

Red-tailed Hawks Buzz and Ruby (right) sit on their nest in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in January 2013. Photo by Susan Moses.

May

17. Team Sapsucker records 275 species during a Big Day that starts outside Tucson, Arizona, and ends near La Jolla, California. The total is the highest Big Day score ever reported from the region, and in North America it is second only to the record the team set in Texas in 2013. May 3

18. The first comprehensive estimates of bird mortality caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster show that 700,000 birds died within 25 miles of shore while another 120,000 perished farther from shore.

June

19. David La Puma, most recently a product specialist at Leica Birding, replaces Pete Dunne as director of Cape May Bird Observatory. June 3

Tufted Puffin off Vancouver Island, May 2011, by westcoastbirder.

Tufted Puffin off Vancouver Island, May 2011, by westcoastbirder.

20. California Condors nesting at Zion National Park produce Utah’s first chick. The young condor raised hopes for a successful outcome on June 25, when it was spotted at the edge of its nest, but it did not fledge.

21. A Tufted Puffin is spotted on the East Coast for the first time in almost 200 years. June 19

22. The recovering Wood Stork is down-listed from Endangered to Threatened. When it was listed as Endangered in 1984, a total of 6,245 nesting pairs were known in 29 colonies, 25 of which were in Florida. In 2013, 11,046 pairs nested in 100 colonies throughout Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. June 26

23. A Brown Booby visits Hansen Lake, Sarpy Co., Nebraska. June 28-30

July

24. A Red-necked Stint is found in Florida (in Key West) for the first time ever. The species is a rare breeder in Alaska and a regular migrant along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, most often recorded in July and August. July 16

25. Brushing aside concerns about bird-window collisions voiced by Minnesota Audubon, American Bird Conservancy, the Minneapolis Common Council, and others, the Minnesota Vikings move ahead with construction of a new stadium in Minneapolis featuring nearly 200,000 square feet of glass.

26. Researchers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announce that prairie wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region, often referred to as America’s duck factory, declined by 1.1 percent between 1997 and 2009. The declines add up to a loss of breeding habitat for 100,000 pairs of ducks.

27. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces that it will phase out the use of neonicotinoids in all national wildlife refuges by January 2016. The move follows an earlier decision to ban the pesticides in refuges in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands. July 31

August

28. More than 80 percent of California reaches a state of drought that U.S. Drought Monitor labels “extreme” or “exceptional” — of five levels, the two harshest.

29. Researchers in the Netherlands link neonicotinoids, the best-selling insecticides in the world, to declining populations of insect-eating birds. August 7

30. Young birder Marcel Such, of Lyons, Colorado, and retired refuge manager Stephen Bouffard, of Boise, Idaho, win Leica Trinovid 42 binoculars for essays they submitted to our contest celebrating young birders. August 18

31. Nine Hawaiian Crows hatch at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on Hawaii Island, bringing the world Alala population to 114 birds.

September

32. Exhibits, lectures, films, and publications recall Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, on the centenary of the species’ extinction. On September 1, the date of Martha’s death, we published Aldo Leopold’s famous essay, “On a Monument to the Pigeon.”

Passenger Pigeons by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, juvenile left, male center, and female right, offset reproduction of watercolor. Birds of New York (New York State Museum. Memoir 12), Albany: University of the State of New York. Wikimedia Commons.

Passenger Pigeons by Louis Agassiz Fuertes, juvenile left, male center, and female right, offset reproduction of watercolor. Birds of New York (New York State Museum. Memoir 12), Albany: University of the State of New York. Wikimedia Commons.

33. Alabama bird bander Bob Sargent, co-founder of the Hummer/Bird Study Group, dies on September 7. He was 77. We wrote about Sargent and western hummingbirds that overwinter in the gulf in our December 2010 issue.

34. Two reports released days apart paint a gloomy picture of North America’s birdlife. One, the State of the Birds Report 2014, describes our birds today; the other, published by National Audubon, forecasts the effects that human-caused climate change will have in the years to come.

35. Hope, one of seven Whimbrels tagged in Virginia in 2008-09, returns to St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands, for her sixth winter. Scientists estimate she has traveled 75,000 miles since her capture. September 8

36. A portrait of Ruddy Ducks painted by Jennifer Miller of Olean, New York, wins the 2014 Federal Duck Stamp Contest. The image will be made into the 2015-16 Federal Duck Stamp, which goes on sale in late June 2015.

Ruddy Ducks by Jennifer Miller, Olean, New York, winner of the 2014 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. Courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Federal Duck Stamp Office.

Ruddy Ducks by Jennifer Miller, Olean, New York, winner of the 2014 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. Courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Federal Duck Stamp Office.

37. At Cape May Point State Park on September 12, Whiskered Tern is spotted in North America for the third time ever.

October

38. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the Yellow-billed Cuckoo as Threatened in parts of 12 western states. Once abundant in the West, populations have declined for several decades, primarily due to the severe loss, degradation, and fragmentation of riparian habitat as a result of conversion to agriculture, dam construction, river-flow management, and riverbank protection. Kenn Kaufman described the Yellow-billed’s unusual breeding habits in our June 2014 issue.

39. Storms blow a Hermit Thrush across the Atlantic to Scotland. The species had been recorded in Britain only 12 times before.

November

Rufous Hummingbird by Marvin Smith.

Rufous Hummingbird by Marvin Smith.

40. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declares the Gunnison Sage-Grouse as Threatened. Fewer than 5,000 birds survive, and only in western Colorado and southeastern Utah. November 12

41. A Rufous Hummingbird that was captured by a homeowner in St. Paul, Minnesota, is released in Texas after being transported south in a private jet. The flight ended without resolution a heated debate about appropriate responses to vagrant hummingbirds.

42. The Laysan Albatross known as Wisdom, the world’s oldest banded wild bird, returns to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. She later laid an egg. Wisdom has raised 30-35 chicks since being banded in 1956, when she was thought to be five. November 22

43. Ontario lays out a plan to reduce by 80 percent the acreage planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed by 2017. November 25

December

44. The California Fish and Game Commission lists Tricolored Blackbird as Endangered on a temporary, emergency basis. The bird’s population has plummeted 64 percent in six years, 44 percent since 2011. December 4

45. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists a subspecies of Red Knot as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The service had proposed listing the bird, pictured below, in September, nearly a decade after conservationists first asked the federal government to protect the rufa subspecies. December 9

46. Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds officially opens. The much-anticipated dedication ceremony capped a year’s good work by American Bird Conservancy, with help from Victor Emanuel Nature Tours and Tucson Audubon Society, to purchase the famous Paton residence and transfer the property to TAS for long-term stewardship.

47. A new genetic map of nearly all living birds shakes the avian evolutionary tree. December 12

48. After a nine-week trip covering 1,100 miles, seven members of the 2014 class of Whooping Cranes arrive at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida on December 12. The cranes started their migration at White River Marsh SWA in Green Lake County, Wisconsin, on October 10.

49. President Obama signs into law both the Federal Duck Stamp Act of 2014 and the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act. The Duck Stamp law increases the price of the stamp from $15 to $25. December 18

50. For the second year in a row, Snowy Owls commence a major flight into North America. Many are farther west than last winter, around the Great Lakes and on the prairies.

Which 2014 story was most important to you? Did we overlook an important event? Please leave a comment. Happy New Year! — Chuck Hagner, Editor

Red Knot at Raybins Beach near Fortescue, New Jersey, by Joshua Galicki.

Red Knot at Raybins Beach near Fortescue, New Jersey, by Joshua Galicki.

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See the most important stories about birds and birdwatchers of 2013.

2014 photos, from left to right: Royal Flycatcher courtesy of Fundación ProAves, Northern Gannets by Charles Gangas, Rufous Hummingbird by Marvin Smith, and Great Egrets by Scott Helfrich.

 

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  • Dave S

    Whiskered Tern was not a 1st North American record

  • canaduck

    Great list!