Thursday, December 07, 2006

An Invitation to Join the Champaign County Christmas Bird Count

For specific information on the Champaign County Christmas Bird Count contact Helen Parker of the Champaign County Audubon Society at [] or 367-3130.

For more general information on the CBC visit the National Audubon Society's web pages at

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On Saturday, December 16th the Champaign County Audubon Society will conduct its annual Christmas Bird Count, an event that provides birders of varying abilities an opportunity to contribute to scientific efforts that track trends in bird populations over time.

The local count is part of a national effort that dates back to 1900, when a Christmas count was conceived of as an alternative to the tradition of the holiday “side hunt,” in which teams competed to see who could shoot the greatest quantity of birds in a day. Twenty-seven people participated in that first count, and they tallied ninety species of birds.

In contrast, recent years have seen upwards of fifty thousand people participating in the Christmas Bird Count, species totals of more than six hundred, and total numbers of birds counted around seventy-five million.

Some volunteers participate in the field, where they follow a specific route within the designated count circle, making note of every bird they see or hear for as much of the day as possible. Other volunteers who live within a count circle can participate by keeping track of the birds that visit their yards on the day of the count. The idea is to record not only how many species are observed, but also roughly how many individuals of each species are present on the count day.

Given the variability in the way individual counts are conducted, the information gathered from the Christmas Bird Count is most useful for assessing general trends in populations of wintering birds over time, and short term fluctuations in data are expected.

Among the thirty-nine people who participated in the Champaign County count last year we observed more than eleven thousand birds, with at least one individual from sixty-eight different species.

For me, highlights of the day included seeing a northern goshawk chase pheasants in the restored prairie at Meadowbrook Park, and catching sight of a peregrine falcon as it rode the afternoon wind. But the count is just as much about keeping tabs on the smaller birds that come down from northern states and Canada to enjoy the central Illinois winter with us: dark-eyed juncos, American tree sparrows, purple finches, and the like.

If you are interested in participating in this year’s Christmas Bird Count in Champaign County you can find contact information at the Environmental Almanac website, but here are the basics. The count takes place on Saturday, December 16th. Some volunteers are needed to help count birds in the field, for whatever part of the day they are available. Less experienced volunteers will be teamed up with veterans, so there’s no need to hang back if you’re unsure of your bird identification skills. Volunteers are also needed to count birds at their feeders, but only if they live within the count circle, which encompasses an area roughly from Busey Woods in Urbana to Homer Lake. (The count coordinator will gladly help you determine whether or not you live in the circle.) At the end of the day all participants are welcome to a chili potluck where the lists of birds observed will be compiled.

Now, I realize that the busyness of the holiday season can leave people feeling short of time, and that counting birds in December isn’t for everyone.