Rock Creek Park Breeding Bird Census

February 17, 2011 by Gregory Gough


Since 1948, birds have been counted in spring and summer in a study plot in Rock Creek Park, a large forested area in Washington, D.C.

The deciduous upland forest habitat has harbored 51 different kinds of birds (full list at bottom of page).

The purpose of the census is to monitor long-term changes of the bird population.

Note* In the charts below, the y-axis labels are territories in 100 acres. The plot itself is only 65 acres but by converting to 100 acres, the plot can be compared with other plots. Similar species are grouped together to aid in comparisons.


5 species of woodpeckers are found in the study plot: downy, hairy, flicker, pileated, and red-bellied (pictured below from left to right).

Woodpecker numbers appear to be fairly stable but note that as the forest has gotten more mature (about 80 years old when the survey started), the larger woodpeckers (pileated, red-bellied, hairy) have gotten more common. Pileated woodpeckers, the largest species, were not found during the 40s and 50s.

Most of these cavity nesters likely spend the year in the study plot, except perhaps the flicker.

Bar chart showing average number of woodpeckers per decade.


The eastern wood-pewee, acadian flycatcher, eastern phoebe, and great crested flycatcher all breed in the plot.

These neotropical migrants have declined pretty significantly, especially the acadian and great crested flycatchers.

Phoebes are fairly common in Rock Creek Park but have very specific nesting requirements, often on a bridge or building (but not in a tree). There is only 1 bridge in the plot.

Bar chart showing average number of flycatchers per decade.


The most common nesters in the plot at the beginning of the survey, the migratory red-eyed and yellow-throated vireos have declined precipitously.

Yellow-throated vireos appear to have recolonized the plot after disappearing in the 1970s.

Bar chart showing average number of vireos per decade.


Blue jays and American crows occasionally nest in the plot.

Never very common, they may have been affected in the 21st century by the spread of West Nile Virus. Corvids are particularly susceptible to the disease.

Bar chart showing average number of corvids per decade.


The resident Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, and white-breasted nuthatch all nest in cavities in trees.

Like other non-migratory birds in the park, their numbers appear to be fairly stable.

Bar chart showing average number of parids per decade.


The migratory wood thrush, veery, and American robin all occur in the study plot, at one time or another.

While wood thrushes have significantly declined, veeries have colonized the plot and then died out. Beginning in the 90s, robins colonized the plot and are the most common bird in 2010.

Bar chart showing average number of thrushes per decade.


Northern parula, American redstart, Kentucky warbler, hooded warbler, and black-and-white warbler were all found in the plot.

These colorful migratory songbirds have all died out in the plot and maybe from Rock Creek Park as well.

Bar chart showing average number of warblers per decade.

Ground Warblers

Ovenbirds and Louisiana waterthrushes nest on or near the ground.

The migratory ovenbird has declined alarmingly while the Louisiana waterthrush has been fairly stable. Waterthrushes nest along streams and there is one small stream in the plot.

Bar chart showing average number of ground warblers per decade.


Pictured from left to right: scarlet tanager, eastern towhee, northern cardinal, and brown-headed cowbird.

Like other Neotropical migratory songbirds, the scarlet tanager has declined in numbers. Towhees and cardinals, which favor shrubby edges, occur in low numbers in the forested plot. Cowbirds, which parasitize songbird nests, are not particularly common in the plot.

Bar chart showing average number of miscellaneous per decade.

Complete Bird List

  • Cooper's Hawk
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Mourning Dove
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Barred Owl
  • Chimney Swift
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Acadian Flycatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Brown Creeper
  • Carolina Wren
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Veery
  • Wood Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • European Starling
  • Northern Parula
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Worm-eating Warbler
  • Ovenbird
  • Louisiana Waterthrush
  • Kentucky Warbler
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Song Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Common Grackle
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • House Sparrow

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