By Peter Becker
Anyone who enjoys the sight of birds as they come and go, can be a part of an annual project called the Christmas bird count. The Northeast PA Audubon Society (NEPAS) welcomes volunteers to join the count, Sunday December 15.
"You don’t need a lot of experience, just a love for the birds who frequent our feeders and come to our region from the Canada for the winter months," said Barbara Leo, Conservation Chairperson for NEPAS.
The data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations throughout North America and to help guide conservation action. This is the 113th year of the nationwide count.
Each year the local count takes place within a 7.5 mile radius of White Mills, PA. Volunteers who are new might be paired with a more experienced bird watcher, stationed at specific places in the count area. Counters may also watch from their own home, observing birds at their feeder.
That 15-mile wide circle takes in Hawley and Honesdale, and reaches from Lakeville to Beach Lake and from Prompton to Bohemia.
She said that once a counting site is picked, they keep it year after year so that they may observe patterns and changes in the local habitat. Leo said that other sites could be started as well, if there were enough counters.
They usually start early, depending on the temperature. If the morning starts out in the 20's, for example, birds tend to wait to come out when the Sun is high enough to warm the air.
They record how many birds are seen as well as types.
Generally, about 10 people participate in the local count, although Leo would like to see 20 or 30. New counters are welcome. They don't have to be members of the Audubon Society.
Asked about what changes the may have noticed in recent years, Leo noted that bird counts tend to be declining, though the number of people watching are about the same. There has been a decrease in both winter birds and neo-tropical song birds that frequent feeders in the summer.
The actual numbers fluctuate year to year. Last year (2011), the counters in the "White Mills Circle" tallied 3,393 birds. Total species counted was 40.
In 2010 they counted 3,909 birds. They spotted 47 species that year.
During the Christmas Bird Count they have been seeing Whitewing Crossbills, a finch from Northern Canada. Evergreens in the north have had less cones, which means the birds head south in search for more food.
Another finch, the Snow Bunting, has been making its way south, scavenging in cornfields.
Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles and a variety of hawks are arriving this time of year and might be seen during the count. A variety of local birds may still be seen, including Cardinals, Bluebirds and Cedar Waxwings. Counts done in town tend to include pigeons and sparrows as well as others.
Page 2 of 2 - Eagles or pigeons, all are counted.
Hurricanes affect bird counts, and global climate change affects migratory patterns. Habitat destruction both in the north and the tropics alter the lives of our feathered friends.
Leo, who has loved the bids since she was a child, said she birds fascinating in that they have so much to teach us about climate and habitat change.
Audubon encourages and welcomes feeding of birds through the winter, Leo said. Feeding them can help them ensure a harsh winter. Cats are certainly a concern. "Cats get a lot of birds," Leo noted. Feeders should be kept away from feline reach.
Anyone who is interested should call Barbara Leo at 253-2364 for more information.
"The numbers vary from year to year and all activity depends on the day and weather conditions," Leo said. "When it's all done we like to enjoy a hot meal and cheer to discuss the day and share in the joy of the birds and being out in our beautiful county!"
Visit online at birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count