Throughout our lives we develop new traditions over the Christmas holiday season; some with our families, some with friends, and some for our own pleasure. I would like to suggest a new tradition that can begin at any age – join a Christmas Bird Count.
Begun in 1900 by a group of 27 Audubon Society members, this annual census has gone from a total of 89 species of birds counted that first year to 72,653 observers in 2015, who counted a total of 63 million birds! Like the Feederwatch program which was covered in an earlier blog, this is another important Citizen Science project for anyone interested in birds.
The one day counts happen between December 14th and January 5th. You can join as many counting ‘circles’ as you wish. To find out how to sign up for a count, you should go to the Audubon website. It will also give you lots more information about all previous counts and summaries.
A house finch is just one of the birds you might find on your Christmas Bird Count
The counts are done in a circular area 15 miles across and one person is designated the count compiler. Group size can vary greatly, but there are always experienced birders in the group. Often a larger group will divided the circle up between several carloads, making the overall process easier and quicker. It is a great opportunity to both get outdoors at a time of year when you might not otherwise, and see birds that may not come to your home feeders. There is also the camaraderie of meeting fellow bird lovers and learning from others.
These types of censuses carried out all over North, South and Central America are leading to a much greater understanding of bird populations – their numbers and their locations. Recent years have shown more neotropical migrants, like warblers, staying into the winter months in the northeastern parts of the U.S. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer Northern Bobwhite, American Kestrels and Loggerhead Shrikes area being counted in many regions of the country. These birds all require shrub lands and hedgerows, which are declining not only in the U.S., but worldwide. They also depend upon food that is negatively impacted by pesticides.
This sort of information will continue to provide scientists with data that will help them understand some of the problems birds are facing. As the data is compiled and analyzed, reports and plans will be made available to agencies like the EPA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They can then use this information in their conservation efforts.
Give yourself an extra gift this winter and join the Christmas Bird Count. It’s free and fun.
By Kate Crowley