One bird, two birds. Red bird, bluebird.
“This year, let’s try something different. Instead of hunting birds during the holiday season, let’s “hunt” birds only to identify, count and record them.”
Something like this was said by an early leader in the National Audubon Society – Frank Chapman. That year, 27 observers tallied 89 different species in 25 counts across the country. Now 113 years later, his alternative, called the Christmas Bird Count, continues to add to a long-standing data set helping scientists understand how birds and the environment are faring throughout the Northeast and beyond.
The traditional count wrapped up last Saturday, Jan. 5, with these “Binocular Brigades” braving winter’s chill, ice and snow to record resident and wintering birds before spring migrants return. Just over 70 volunteers at the annual count in New York’s Central Park documented 5,721 birds, more than last year and with some unexpected visitors: common redpolls and white-winged crossbills.
In Connecticut alone, 11 Christmas Bird Counts were held opening weekend. A great highlight of the count in Connecticut is the Le Conte’s sparrow, found by Jamie Meyers and David Lawton in Bloomfield, Conn., as part of the Hartford CBC circle. This bird was only the second ever recorded in one of these counts in Connecticut – and only the 7th record in the state overall!
Last year, 63,227 observers participated in 2,248 counts, including 410 in Canada, 1,739 in the U.S., and 99 across Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands. They found 2,298 species across all counts combined, including more than 650 species in the U.S. alone.
Many national wildlife refuges are represented within the Christmas Bird Count and winter bird count circles throughout the country, and wherever that happens, the refuge is always a hub for that particular count.
Why is this? Our national wildlife refuges are the nation’s crown jewels of habitat for birds and other wildlife; where better to look for rare birds or large numbers of birds than your local refuge?
Places like the Pondicherry Unit of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in New Hampshire, the Milford Point Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National
Wildlife Refuge in Connecticut, Brigantine Unit of the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland are all legendary as birding spots in the birding community and synonymous with critical habitats.
Bird counts are a great way to track the important functions of stopover, foraging and wintering habitats that your refuge is providing to birds that we all care so much about.
There’s still time for you to join in the tradition started over a century ago. Several winter bird counts extend into the month of February. Check out the Great Backyard Bird Count. I’ll be participating and compiling information from Connecticut!