Denver, CO – With the holidays approaching, thousands of bird watchers are preparing to take to field and forest for the longest-running citizen science project in American history. From one end of the country to the other, bird lovers armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists are getting ready to bundle up and head out in search of birds during the 112th annual Christmas Bird Count, which runs from Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.
During the Christmas Bird Count, birders follow specific routes around designated 15-mile-wide circles that are counted year after year. Volunteers organize birders into groups whose aim is to identify and tally every bird in their part of the circle.
The goal is to get an annual census of which birds – and how many of each species – are using a particular habitat. By repeating the process year after year, wildlife managers are able to document and analyze long term trends in species abundance and health.
“The information gathered by scientists and volunteers is invaluable to determining long-term trends in bird populations,” said John Koshak, a watchable wildlife specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.”Birds are sensitive to changes in the environment. By studying trends, we can determine which bird species are declining and which ones are on the increase.”
According to Leon Bright, membership coordinator for the Arkansas Valley Audubon Society, this year’s counters in his area are seeing lots of species, but not as many individuals as in years past. “We documented 127 species at Pueblo Reservoir, which is two short of the all time record. The total number of birds, however, was down.”
Bright said the same trend was observed in the Wet Mountain Valley count near Westcliffe. “The lower number of birds might be related to the drought conditions,” he said.
According to the Audubon Society, the Christmas Bird Count is a family tradition for their members. On Christmas Day 1900, the first Christmas Bird Count was done as an alternative to what was known as a “side hunt.” According to the Audubon Society’s web page, a “side hunt,” was when people formed teams to see which team could shoot the largest bag of feathered and furred wildlife. Recognizing that this kind of intense hunting might have a serious impact on wildlife populations, the national association of the Audubon Society began organizing volunteers to count birds on Christmas Day rather than shoot them.
By tradition, the modern Christmas count takes on the guise of a friendly competition, as groups vie with each other and with history to find more species than their peers did. After a day in the field, often in raw conditions, birders gather to compile their totals and recount the best sightings of the day.
Bright cites two reasons people participate in the Christmas Bird Count. “They love birds and want to help out as citizen scientists. And they love the camaraderie of being with others.”
The Christmas Count is a great way for new and novice birders to learn about bird habits and bird identification skills from experienced birders. Old hands derive satisfaction from knowing that their observations are part of an enormous body of scientific data that’s important to bird conservation in Colorado and beyond.
For many birders, the highlight of the day will be spotting a species they have never seen and adding it to their life list. Others will marvel to the unpredictable and sometimes dramatic interactions between species like raptors and their prey. A lucky few may see a unique bird or a species never before recorded in their circle.
For more information about the Christmas Bird Count in Colorado, go to http://wildlife.state.co.us/Viewing/Features/Pages/XmasBirdCountaspx.
For a complete listing of Christmas Bird Counts planned and how you can get involved, visit the Audubon Society website at, https://netapp.audubon.org/cbcregistration/ or the Colorado Field Ornithologists website, http://cfobirds.org/.