Greenpoint: Winter bird count – who’s in your neighborhood?

Who knows? An annual bird walk could become part of your own holiday tradition

There are owls in the woods, geese and loons on the lake, chickadees and nuthatches at the feeder and cardinals in the hedgerow. We have ravens and eagles winging over the yard, and our own ground birds — chickens and ducks — marching around in the snow.

I’ve never taken a day to count every bird I see, but I might this year, with the whole family-plus home for all of Christmas week, for our own informal Christmas Bird Count.

Audubon’s official Christmas Bird Count is a coordinated bird census that depends on individuals and groups counting every bird they see in designated 15-mile-diameter circles on a particular day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Compilers gather all the data from their circle observers and send it to Audubon, which then can track trends and numbers, and the overall health of the bird populations and habitat.

Now in its 120th year, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count began on Christmas Day in 1900 as an invitation to count birds rather than hunt them. Last year more than 79,000 people contributed to 2,615 counting circles across the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Pacific Islands.

By compiling count results for more than a century, Audubon has valuable data on changes in concentrations and locations of various species. And the count depends on “citizen scientists,” which means any interested individual who wants to contribute.

Counts over the past decade have indicated a downward trend in the number of birds. Audubon generally doesn’t worry too much about year-to-year fluctuations, but the longer downward trend is alarming in light of recent studies showing that North American bird populations, particularly in common bird species, have dropped about 30 percent over the past 50 years.

If you want to participate in the official count, go to Audubon’s website and look for the map of count circles. You can enter your ZIP code to find a circle near you, then email the compiler to join in the count. You’ll get instructions and a checklist. And you don’t have to count all day — even a few hours on the designated day is helpful.

I checked the map and there are no circles closer than 20 miles from me. So this year we’ll do a practice count and compile our own list. We can do that again in February as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count run by Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It’s a more informal census that doesn’t rely on concentrated circles.

Even if you don’t participate in an official count — or count birds at all — a bird walk with family and friends is a nice way to get out of the house and into the fresh air during the holidays. Make a note of the different birds you see. Look up those you don’t recognize when you get back home. Houseful of kids? Set them up drawing the birds they see.

Who knows? An annual bird walk could become part of your own holiday tradition and make you more aware of who lives in your own neighborhood.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Jan. 5. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Life and Arts

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