If you’re looking for something outdoors and beneficial to do this winter, consider the Christmas Bird Count. You can be a citizen scientist! The bird count, an annual community event, is organized by National Audubon Society. The conservation effort provides data about local bird populations. The event dates to 1900.
This year, the Christmas Bird Count runs December 14 through January 5. A few years ago, I participated in the bird count. It was in Crosby, Minnesota, and the group I joined consisted of 12 people. Each group was assigned an area to cover, via car or on foot (depending upon the territory assigned), to identify and count birds.
I went by car with a partner. He was a seasoned bird watcher, which was a time saver, but a bird book for identifying each species works too. We brought binoculars and cold weather gear.
We drove to the top end of our assigned range and worked our way down. The first road we turned on presented our first bird — a bald eagle. Soon after, we spotted a wild turkey that was walking along the road. The turkey flew and landed about halfway up a tree. On the other side of the road, we counted eight more turkeys — male and female — walking up a driveway where they grouped together and stood, waiting for us to leave.
After watching the turkeys for a few minutes, we ventured down the road. I found out conducting a cold-weather bird count from my car requires having the windows down a bit and the heat blasting. It was a cold December day. This year might be less frigid; a lot of the country is experiencing above average temperatures.
The area I was assigned was heavily treed; the woods were beautiful. A recent snow covered the landscape and weighed down branches. It was a lovely Currier and Ives scene.
Not surprisingly, I had to discipline myself during the bird count to refrain from too much daydreaming. I’m pretty sure I would make a terrible full-time scientist, given my wandering thoughts. Data collecting requires focus. But the opportunity to be a citizen scientist for a day was fantastic.
In addition to the eagle and turkeys, I was able to identify many species of songbirds, including nuthatches, chickadees, and a robin. Others in the count, I found out later, saw two Red-headed Woodpeckers. There were also hawks, cardinals, a Bohemian Waxwing and White-throated Sparrows. In all, Crosby citizen scientists counted 27 different species. So many birds!
The bird count is an important component for the conservation of our feathered friends. It is an early winter census that helps show how birds are faring. The data provided is collected by thousands of participants across the United States and Canada.
I like being one, small part of something big, like the Christmas Bird Count. It reminds me that any effort — small or large — is important to the conservation of wildlife. I’m not one to believe my small part (or anyone else’s) is insignificant. One small part added into many other small parts makes something monumental. That is how people can make a difference — working together!
The steps for participants are simple. One: Become familiar with the Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count. Two: Check out THIS MAP to find a count near you. Three: Use the circle pop-ups from the map to email contacts. Four: Sign up HERE to find out about results of the Christmas Bird Count. Five: Check out THIS SITE to view photos of birds from the count or upload some of your own.
I’ve recently moved, so my old birding group is not an option. I plan on finding a new, local group to join. Tis the season to count birds!