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Dirty Birds Weren’t on the List 

By Jeremy Varner

Photo by Karel Bock/ Red-winged blackbird

How many birds do you see in your yard? How many different species can you identify in the neighborhood? What’s bigger, a falcon or a hawk? On December 30, 2023, a group of birders from Birds Georgia tackled these questions during the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). 

The CBC, administered by the National Audubon Society, is an annual event where volunteers all over North America count birds in their wintering grounds. The CBC began in 1900 and may be the longest running citizen-science survey in the world. The 124th CBC took place from December 14, 2023, to January 5, 2024. 

Birds Georgia, formerly the Georgia Audubon Society, organizes Atlanta into sections and assigns volunteer teams to each section for the CBC. Grant Park and Ormewood Park are in Section 8, which is essentially a large rectangle framed by I-78/I-85, I-20, Moreland Avenue, and Cleveland Avenue. Section 8 leader Eddie McCallum sub-divided the volunteers into two teams with one focusing on Grant Park and Zoo Atlanta and another team visiting many parks and green spaces. The volunteers included avid birders, novice naturalists, Zoo Atlanta staff, local residents, a visitor from Boston, three generations of one family, long-time friends, some folks who only see each other annually while birding, two brothers, and lots of binoculars.

In total, the volunteers identified 57 distinct species in Section 8 at the following locations:

  • Grant Park and Zoo Atlanta: 39 species – not including the Zoo residents
  • Browns Mill Golf Course: 31 species
  • Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve: 14 species
  • South Bend Park and Lakewood Amphitheater (The South Bend Dog Park offers a good view into the lake with many waterfowl): 28 species
  • McDaniel Branch Wetlands: 20 species
  • Tapestry Ormewood Park: 18 species
  • Beltline Crossing Park: 10 species
  • Chosewood Park: 16 species
Photo by Kayla Nettleton/ Common grackle

The birds ranged from large herons, hawks, and vultures to tiny kinglets, wrens, and chickadees. The most abundant species were the red-winged blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus and common grackle Quiscalus quiscula, both of which form flocks of dozens to hundreds in the winter.

The birders saw the greatest variety of species at Grant Park and Browns Mill Golf Course, both of which are large but more importantly offer diverse habitats with large mature trees, hedges/shrubs, open grass, and water.

All these pockets of nature in our neighborhoods, mostly owned and managed by Atlanta Parks and Recreation, provide the wide range of habitats that supply food and shelter not only for 57 species of birds but all the species that form the ecosystems that sustain the birds. Birding and the CBC tests your ability to differentiate between a chipping, song, field, swamp, and white-throated sparrow, but also allows a participant to revel in the biodiversity of our city.

For more information on birds, birding, or the CBC, check out Birds Georgia at or contact the author, Jeremy Varner, at

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