Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas Bird Count is a Comin!

       I have participated in the Red Deer Christmas bird counts since 1969 and in Christmas for a lot longer than that. I enjoy both of them .

       The public is interested in the bird count and asks many questions. Christmas bird counts have been around for a very long time . They were at one time known as Boxing Day bird counts and were held rigidly on Boxing Day. The first bird counts originated from hunting. On Boxing Day people would go out and shoot as many birds as possible. The birds were identified and counted and the guy who shot the most was the winner. Gradually the idea of just counting live birds took over and the counts were used to provide a general trend in bird populations. The bird tally was coordinated across North America.

      People sometimes ask how accurate our count is . It isn't accurate. It's a rough estimate but when done over a long period of time is a valuable statistic about the health of bird populations. So you ask how do I know I don't count the same bird twice? I don't know. Chickadees are usually in a flock of roughly 20 birds. If chickadees are flying across a forest opening you count them flying in one direction. If they come from the other direction they are probably birds you have already counted. Many times we do not actually see the bird but identify it by it's song. A 20 m spruce tree is difficult to observe all nooks and crannies. Some birds will keep moving through that tree and do not show themselves.  Weather makes a difference in the count. One count day was very stormy and I did not count.Very few birds would have been active as they stay close to cover to keep warm.

     I have counted the same area near my house for  long time. I know about how many species I will find in that area. The odd time that there is a different species is a bonus. From time to time I will count a brown creeper. Creepers are not very common and very hard to spot. I can also tell if black backed three toed woodpeckers are about by observing spruce trees that have been used as a food source. These woodpeckers are very quiet and hard to spot even if you know they are in the area.

     The Christmas Bird count is taking place Dec. 20 in the Red Deer area. We'd really like people to join us. Birding experience is not necessary. We will put you with an experienced birder. Phone the Nature Center to get information. 346-2010