Club seeks help with Christmas Bird Count

christmas  bird count
An immature Harris’s sparrow is spotted. Photo by Nick Eason

On Saturday, Dec. 14, teams of Moab birders will participate in the 120th National Audubon Society-sponsored Christmas Bird Count. In the late 1890s, sporting counts were held. Hunters held annual competitions to see how many birds could be shot, but there was a growing concern over this practice. The newly formed Audubon Society organized what was called a Christmas Bird Census, which eventually became the Christmas Bird Count, according to Marian Eason of the Moab Bird Club.

In the Moab area’s 35th count, participants will be searching every bush, tree, field and cliff in a 15-mile circle. Teams are assigned a section of this giant circle and will spend most of the day in the field. Each team is given a data sheet for recording species and numbers, said Eason.

A designated recorder tallies species and their numbers. The actual official day count time lasts for 24 hours. Bird species not seen on count day could be counted if seen within a period of three days before or three days after the official day. This allows a few extra days to look for those species that might normally be seen but don’t show up on the designated day, said Eason.

Each team hopes for rare birds to appear in its section, but the common winter birds are the norm. Last year’s count found a Greater Roadrunner, a Lincoln’s Sparrow and a Clark’s Nutcracker. Fifty-eight participants recorded 74 species, Eason said.

This annual event relies on volunteer citizen scientists, in 15 countries, to record the number of different species observed, as well as count the numbers of those present. Tens of thousands of volunteers, in more than 2,300 locations, track the health of bird populations through local counts. The data collected will be added to a 12-decades-old existing database. Trends will be noted and analyzed by professional scientists, she said.

A recent study, appearing in the September issue of Science magazine, cites that nearly 3 billion North American birds have vanished since 1970. Factored in are habitat loss (the single largest factor), collisions with vehicles, buildings, power lines, communication towers, wind turbines and windows, said Eason.

Non-collision factors include pesticides, oil spills and oil waste pits and lead poisoning from lead shot. Another major impact on birds is cat predation, causing a loss of more than 300 million birds a year. This accounts for 10 to 11 percent of total bird loss, according to the study.

To participate, contact Marcy Hafner at 435-259-6197 or [email protected]. Participants don’t need to be experts; novices are placed with seasoned birders and all are welcome. A post-count potluck brunch will be held for participants at The Nature Conservancy office at 10 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 15. Notes will be compared and a preliminary review of count numbers will be presented.

To find out about Moab Bird Club meetings and activities, contact the Eason at 435-259-6447.