...And A Crossbill In A Pine Tree
Audubon Christmas Bird Count
Treasured Christmas traditions originate from days gone by. Cutting down the family Christmas tree, singing carols and … blasting birds out of the sky with shotguns? Yes, about 100 years ago, it was a family tradition to set aside one day near Christmas to go into the great outdoors and shoot as many birds as possible.
Prior to the turn of the 19th Century, people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “side hunt” by choosing sides and going afield with their guns. Whichever side brought in the biggest pile of avian quarry won. On Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist and legendary birder Frank Chapman initiated an alternative to this mass killing by organizing a “hunt” to count birds and record their numbers. Twenty-seven dedicated birders conducted 25 Christmas Bird Counts that day and identified 90 species. In 2007, more than 50,000 volunteers conducted 2,113 counts, reporting more than 57 million birds across the Americas and beyond.
Now known as the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, it lives today as the longest running “citizen science” program in the world. This year, from December 14 through January 5, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas will again take part. More than a century of unbroken data has added up to results envied by other scientists who don’t enjoy such a fleet of volunteer help.
“These citizen scientists are taking action for conservation,” says the National Audubon Society. “By participating in Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, they help scientists understand how birds are faring amid unprecedented environmental challenges. The data they collect informs the world about the state of birds, and provides the information we need to shape their future and ours.”
Each count occurs in a designated circle 15 miles in diameter, and is led by an experienced birder, or designated “compiler”. The Redding area has two compilers covering three count areas. Wintu Audubon Society President Bill Oliver oversees the Redding count, while chairperson and local birding expert Bob Yutzy oversees the Anderson and Fall River Mills counts. During the count period, participants fan out over the count area and record every bird spotted, noting the number of birds and species of each bird seen. Counting is not the only important factor in the project. The primary objective is to monitor the status and distribution of bird populations across the Western Hemisphere. “We are more interested in trends, rather than actual numbers,” says Oliver. “We have 30 years of count records in this area, which is enough data to show clear trends.” For example, since 1980, heron and egret populations have increased while California thrasher and western meadowlark numbers are decreasing, “most likely due to loss of brush habitat,” he explains.
Anyone can join the counts. Report in at the designated meeting point, rain or shine. Dress warmly and expect to be counting all day. “Birders of all skill levels are encouraged to join in,” Oliver says. “Inexperienced birders need not be intimidated. They are placed with more experienced birders, and can act as recorders. This activity is a great way for new birders to get a feel for the birds in our area while contributing to important science.”