Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Christmas Bird Count, Dec. 15-Jan.4

In the 19th century, there was a popular Christmas sport called the "side hunt" where a party would split into two groups and go off hunting. Whichever group came back with the most birds was considered the winner. The tradition worried ornithologist Dr. Frank Chapman, and in 1900 he started what he hoped would become an annual tradition, the Christmas Bird Count. Over 100 years later, the count is still conducted. Now it serves as a method for understanding winter bird populations.

The Audubon Society organizes the CBC. The count takes place in designated circles, a set area that can encompass thousands of acres. Within that circle, birders fan out to count individual birds. So, after a full day of birding in Missouri, bird counts often reflect hundreds of cardinals, flickers and juncos with species counts ranging from 60 on the low end to 120 (usually those circles with significant waterfowl populations). One active count circle in Missouri was established in the 1960s, and data from each bird count is stored online. In this one area, for example, one can see how many pintail were there in 1965, how many brown creepers in 1980, and so on. Audubon uses the CBC information to track changes in North American bird populations; in recent years, for example, hooded merganser populations in New England have soared while grosbeaks have declined.

Christmas Bird Count circles are not common in the Ozarks, but go here to see if there's one around where you live. Don't be alarmed if you see a car full of birders glide past your property and staring at your feeders with binoculars.

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