Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are urging wildlife enthusiasts to join the tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the United States in the Audubon Society’s 114th Annual Christmas Bird Count, which will take place Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.
The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen-science survey in the world, and the data collected through the count allows researchers, conservation biologists, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.
Local counts will occur on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Volunteers can pick the most convenient circle, or participate in more than one count. There is a specific methodology to the CBC, but everyone can participate. The count takes place within "Count Circles," which focus on specific geographical areas. Each circle is led by a "Count Compiler," who is an experienced birdwatcher, enabling beginning birders to learn while they assist.
Those who live within the boundaries of a Count Circle can even stay at home and report the birds that visit their backyard feeders.
In either case, the first step is to locate a Count Circle that’s seeking participants and contact the local Count Compiler on Audubon’s website, www.audubon.org, to find out how you can volunteer.
There is no longer a fee to participate in the Christmas Bird Count.
Dan Brauning, who heads up the Game Commission’s wildlife diversity division, said the Christmas Bird Count makes an indispensible contribution to conservation because it monitors bird species that spend winters in Pennsylvania.
"Some of these species are much easier to count or monitor in winter because their breeding ground is so far north in areas where there are few people or roads to give access to habitat," Brauning said.
The rusty blackbird, for instance, migrates from the boreal taiga forests of Canada and Alaska to the southeastern United States in winter, Brauning said. Pennsylvania is on the northern edge of its winter range, and it sometimes turns up in the Christmas Bird Count, he said.
Hawks also are more easily counted in winter, Brauning said.
Brauning said the Christmas Bird Count is a good way to introduce beginners to bird identification. It is much easier in winter to find birds through your binoculars, he said.
"Birds are easier to spot because the trees lack the leaves that hide birds from your eyes in spring and summer," Brauning said. "And there are fewer bird species around in winter than at other times of year, so it is easier to learn bird species identification. In fact, many birders got started in this hobby in winter in a car with more experienced birders on a Christmas count."