Capital: Sacramento, California Bird Populations

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA

Sacramento is the capital of the Golden State, California. California has varying biomes that allow for a more diverse animal population. The California state bird is the called the California Quail, a game bird that prefers the scrub lands as it’s habitat. Some of their calls and songs can be found here.

Interestingly enough, the California Quail does not make the top 20 birds seen in Sacramento. The California Quail prefers desert habitats, so Sacramento would not be a suitable location for the California Quail. The birds seen in Sacramento favor wetlands, tall grass fields and urban landscapes.

Sacramento’s Biome

Sacramento is a mixture of agricultural land, temperate grasslands and urban areas. To the east of Sacramento is a large amount of farmlands, where you can find birds that prefer wetlands and grasslands. Both Northern Pintails and Red-Winged Blackbirds can be found in this area. To the north, grasslands host sparrows and meadowlarks. Through all of Sacramento, two rivers also meet. The Sacramento River and the American River flow through Sacramento’s urban landscape. Although Sacramento is a mixture of agricultural land and grasslands, the majority of the city is an urban landscape.

Most of the type of birds you will find within the city are birds common to many urban landscapes, such as Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows. Nothing special about these city birds, because they are everywhere. Now let’s get to the methods.

Methods

To get the data I needed, I used Python to request observation data from the eBird API. Since I was only looking at bird populations in Sacramento, I chose to look 12 miles around Sacramento’s downtown district.

Some of the sightings might be from outside of Sacramento, but they are close enough to be counted in. Most of the eastern side of the observation zone is farmland, which explains some of the sightings. As the picture above shows, the range covers slightly more than Sacramento, so a few cities and farmland surrounding Sacramento appear on the sightings list.

The eBird functions used return recent sightings near a pair of coordinates. The maximum amount of days the request can go back is 30 days, and the maximum amount of kilometers it can search is 50km. So for the ‘Top 20’ charts, I used recent sightings. As of this post, the earliest sighting returned was from around August 4th. For the 10 year spanning graphs, I used the historic functions that return sightings on specified dates. When you get to the graphs for birds seen over a 10-year span, you might notice some of the bird sightings are low compared to the top 20 lists. This is because the historic function provided by the eBird API does not return every sighting of a specified species for that day, instead only returning one sighting of the bird for that day. So, I added up all those sightings for the entire month of August for years 2009-2019. These numbers will be estimations, and are not accurate representations of the actual populations of birds seen on the month of August. The actual number might be much larger.

Results

When looking up the top 20 birds in Sacramento, I produced this bar chart.

From the bar chart, we can see the Red-Winged Blackbird is just above 5,000 sightings in the past 30 days. Nothing else comes close to that. I assume this is from the agricultural lands surrounding Sacramento. According to the eBird Sacramento high counts page, in March 2007, approximately 80,000 were seen. This makes sense, but just in case this was an error, I made a different bar chart where Red-Winged Blackbirds are omitted from the chart.

Now the highest seen bird is the Northern Pintail, which is a waterfowl that is seen a lot in this area. According to the same eBird Sacramento high counts page, approximately 165,000 Northern Pintail’s were seen in 2011. That is an incredible amount, and during the last 30 days, one would think the Northern Pintail would dominate the Red-Winged Blackbird in numbers. If we compare these two birds on August over 10 years, we get this chart:

Although the Red-winged Blackbird dwarfs the Northern Pintail in numbers, the Northern Pintails still appear as one of the highest counts recorded on eBird for Sacramento. We will later see the Northern Pintail rose in numbers greatly around 2011, while the Red-winged Blackbird was always present in great numbers in Sacramento. Something might have happened in August 2011 to cause Northern Pintails to show up in such great numbers, although I could not tell what might have caused it.

If we take a look at the month of August for 10 years, starting in 2009 and ending in 2019, we get this graph of the top 20 birds over a 10 year span:

As you can tell, the graph is very hectic and is hard to tell what the lower lines are towards the bottom of the graph. The Least Sandpiper seems to stick out in this graph, having well over 5,000 sightings August of 2017. Lets now take a look at every bird separately.

Birds Seen in Sacramento

Below are the birds seen in the top 20 list, with their accompanying 10-year span in August for Sacramento, CA. The birds are alphabetically listed, and the range for each graph is different for each species. Most of the graphs have fluctuations, but some birds have interesting graphs.

American Crow

American Crows are a widespread bird in the United States and members of the Corvidae family. The graph displays peaks were around 2010, 2013 and 2018.

American Crow’s have devil horns for a graph. Edgar Allen Poe would probably love this statistic, even though he loved Ravens.

American White Pelican

The American White Pelican is part of the Pelecanidae family, and are some of the more large waterfowl. Peaks were around 2010 and 2017.

The increase from 2013 to 2017 is a steady climb to just below 300 sightings. Then 2014-2015 has a plateau of approximately 50 sightings. Hopefully after 2019, there is an increase for August 2020.

Bushtit

The Bushtit is a very small bird, and is in the Aegithalidae family. They usually stay together in large flocks. Peaks just below 550 in 2015 and around 450 in 2017.

The interval from 2012-2019 for the Bushtit looks like a balanced peak dwindling down for 2019. If this trend continues, there may be another peak around 2021 with numbers around the 350 mark.

California Gull

They will eat your fries and rip all your favorite foods right from your hands. They belong to the hungriest family of all, the Laridae.

These Gulls just don’t know what they want, according to the graph. One august they’re here, the next they’re gone. Why can’t these food thieves just make up their mind on which food is better?! I guess we may not see so much in August 2020, if the trend continues.

California Scrub-Jay

The prettiest bird of them all, and will land in your hands if you give them nuts. Part of the Corvidae family, they are smart as hell and aren’t scared of humans in certain areas.

The California Scrub Jay seems to have been declining every August starting in 2014. Approximately, below 60 were sighted in 2019, compared to the over 160 sightings of August 2014. Maybe not enough people are nice enough to hand out unsalted almonds in Sacramento anymore.

Canada Goose

These guys would probably kill you if they could, but they got long necks perfect for grabbing onto. They are part of the Anatidae family.

It seems the Canada Goose took a nice 5-year vacation from 2011-2016. Once they came back from vacation, they came back hard. Maybe there was a lot of people to fight during 2017, and the Canada Goose took advantage of this human population explosion. Good honks and bites were had in August 2017. Almost 1,600 sightings in Sacramento for August of 2017, then just as fast as they came, they left 2019. Probably for another good 5 years.

Cedar Waxwing

Definitely the most alcoholic of the birds. Good thing they can’t drive. They’re part of the Bombycillidae family.

Cedar Waxwing’s seem to be increasing in numbers. Maybe larger numbers of Cedar Waxwing’s are migrating to Sacramento from the north to prepare for some good ole beer festivals in September! We all know these guys love their fermented berries.

European Starling

These birds are invading our cities and taking over our bird houses! Get to cover! They belong to the Sturnidae family.

I’m sure if I did a 20-year span, this graph would still have fluctuating peaks. European Starlings love to take homes away from other birds, then recite some poems over their graves.

Great Egret

Just like their name suggests, they’re great and big! They are part of the Ardeidae family.

It seems the Great Egret had a large spike in 2017. Now in 2019, they’re back to less than 100 sightings for August. If someone can provide some event that could possibly have caused the spike in 2017, I would love to hear it!

Green-winged Teal

Just a green-splattered duck. Part of the duck family.

Less than 2.5 Green-winged Teal’s seen in 2009-2012, then a spike of 20 sightings in 2013.

House Finch

Just when you think you spotted a nice looking, bright-colored bird, it’s just a House Finch. Part of the fake family.

These guys are everywhere. I always get a little joy when I see a yellow or red flash in trees, then become disappointed to find out it was only a House Finch. These statistics make sense, since they’re very common and probably come and go often.

Least Sandpiper

Least my ass, they got a huge population. Part of the sand family.

Over 5,000 of these little guys seen in 2017. Even in 2009 there were above 1,000 sightings. The Least Sandpiper is here to stay in Sacramento, so if you don’t have one on your lifers list, get going to Sacramento!

Mallard

Have you gone to a community pond before? Ok, these guys own those. Part of the domesticated family.

It seems people stopped recording Mallard sightings in 2018, because these guys are everywhere in ponds. I mean, look at that spike from 2018-2019.

Mourning Dove

They don’t mourn when they cover your car in shit. Part of the no-sympathy family.

Mourning Dove’s are year-round birds in Sacramento, so maybe people didn’t bother recording these sightings as much in 2018.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pinhead had a lot of sightings in 2011, very cool. Part of the Spongebob family.

According to the eBird high counts page, around 165,000 Northern Pintails were seen in 2011, but this chart shows only around 50 were shown. What should be taken from this graph, is not the number, but the large spike from 2009-2011. Something happened to cause such a jump from approximately 0 sightings in 2009, to approximately over 50 sightings in 2011. Someone should look into it, and bring back the evidence of the Great Sacramento Northern Pintail Migration of 2011.

Red-winged Blackbird

They’re wings are on fire. They’re probably not even real birds. They’re probably creatures with powers of fire. Part of the fire bending family.

The Red-winged Blackbirds started off strong, then fell off for around 3 years. These guys are the top seen bird in Sacramento for August of 2019.

Rock Pigeon

Oh my god, so many sky rats. They got that nice bird flu 4 U. Part of the trash family.

I am just surprised citizens still record these sightings. Can’t we all just go outside, look around for at least two pigeons walking the streets to confirm that Rock Pigeons do still exist? Why are they being recorded? How do we know we’re not submitting the same pigeon more than once? Weren’t pigeons accused of being CIA tools used to monitor the citizens of the USA? It’s all very weird to me.

Snowy Egret

What is cooler than a Snowy Egrets hair? The Great Egret.

Snowy Egrets got that cool black bill, that slicked hair and mean look. I’m sure that’s what accounted for the low numbers from 2009-2012. People were too intimidated to record ’em all, but now they’re facade has worn out, and they have been got in 2017. Good job, citizen scientists. We got ’em.

White-faced Ibis

I don’t see no white, or a face. Part of the sad family.

Very big spikes, very scary. They seem to be dropping in numbers after 2015, which is also very scary. Since the numbers are lower in 2019, it must mean they’re migrating.

White-throated Swift

Get that bird! They’re too fast for our camera technology! Part of the Sonic family.

White-throated Swifts can fly for days, and hardly ever land down on the ground. Mostly because they got little feet that can hardly do anything but exist. Since the numbers dropped, I assume they will pick up in later years and continue to see fluctuations like years previous.

The birds listed above are common to locations like grasslands, agricultural land and urban landscapes. So these birds should be expected around these areas. Next we will highlight a few notable sightings. A notable sighting is defined by eBird’s API as such: “Notable observations can be for locally or nationally rare species or are otherwise unusual, e.g. over-wintering birds in a species which is normally only a summer visitor.”

Notable Bird Sightings

In Sacramento, there were seven species sighted that were listed as a notable sighting. Here is a chart of the species seen, and their numbers:

Possible Errors

Errors in the accuracy of the numbers can be caused by a few things. There are multiple websites that allow citizens to upload animal sightings, but eBird happens to the biggest citizen science project made specifically for birds. Although their database is gigantic, there is no possible way to count every single bird. So, because multiple websites exist for uploading bird sightings, eBird might have sightings that iNaturalist has, and vice versa.

Another reason comes from the fact that I was not able to properly extract all the data I wanted from eBird’s API. Currently they have historic sighting functions, but do not allow you to search for specific species on a specific date. If the eBird API had some function like that, the numbers would be more accurate. For the moment I am held back by this.

I imagine since I am new at doing this, there may be better ways of working with the data that I am unaware of. I plan on getting better at this, and producing content that can hopefully predict results that can be used. My inexperience may result in error. Any suggestions would be taken gladly.

Conclusion

Because of the farmlands near Sacramento’s urban areas, birds like the Red-winged Blackbird, Cedar Waxwings and Northern Pintails are on the top 20 list. Then the common Rock Pigeon, House Finch and others appear in the urban landscape. The notable sightings include nocturnal birds, which make it hard to be seen easily. The Sandhill Crane prefers marshes, and some farmlands provide just that.

References

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