Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Christmas Bird Counts are now in progress
December 15, 2007
Steve Grinley

     This recent snow is sure driving the birds to our feeders. This is the time of year when you may glance out to your bird feeders in your front or side yard and happen to notice another few people standing in the street also looking at your feeders! You’ll be witnessing one of the more exciting birding events of the year – the annual Christmas Bird Count. The 108th CBC began this week and continues through the first of the year. Groups of birders, and individuals, count the number of birds throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.

     The Christmas Count is sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The results of the Christmas Bird Count is the longest running database in ornithology, representing over a century of data, and reveals trends of winter bird populations. More than 50,000 observers participate in this all day census. The first count was held on Christmas Day in 1900 and was conducted in 27 different communities- including three in Massachusetts. Today, thirty-four Count circles are entirely or partially in Massachusetts. Each Count circle is 15 miles in radius and, locally, there are Counts in Andover, which takes place today (Saturday), Cape Ann, which is scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday) and the Newburyport count is Sunday, December 23. Birds not seen that day, but seen in the “Count Week,” which is three days before and three days after, may be included in that Count.

     You can participate in a Count by joining a team in the field, or by reporting birds at your feeders. There is a $5.00 fee per field participant per count. Feeder watchers do not need to pay the fee, and all observers 18 and under may count for free. These fees help to cover the costs of generating materials for compilers, producing an annual CBC summary issue, and maintaining the CBC web site and database. There is a Countdown at the end of the day when all the teams in a Count circle gather to add up their numbers.

     This should prove to be another interesting count year. This is an irruption year for winter finches in our area as many common redpolls, purple finches, pine and evening grosbeaks and red and white-winged crossbills have been seen already. It has been ten years or more since evening grosbeaks have shown up at bird feeders, so it will be fun to see how many get counted this year!

     Few bald eagles have been spotted in the lower Merrimack Valley area and there still have been no reports of snowy owls around Plum Island. But there have been several short-eared owls that should be counted. Numbers of sea ducks, as well as loons, grebes and alcids seem to be building offshore, but as lakes and ponds freeze, fewer dabbling ducks may be tallied.

     Many folks are still entertaining bluebirds and robins in their yards and there seems to be an abundant crop of winterberry, privet, crabapple and other wintering fruit for these, and other fruit eating birds. Our local mockingbird was behind our store today. But, so was our sharp-shinned hawk earlier. There wasn’t a bird at the feeders when I arrived this morning and the pigeons were all lined up on the wires across the street. With a storm pending, I knew the hawk had to be here somewhere. Later, the feeders were covered with birds in a feeding frenzy, so the threat must have moved on.

     If you have any interesting birds in your yard or at your feeders, you may consider calling or E-mailing the Count compiler to let them know. And if you see a group of people with binoculars walking around your neighborhood on the 23rd, you can rest easy that they are only interested in the birds in your community.

     If you are would like to participate in the Newburyport Count, you can contact the compiler, Tom Young at 603-424-4512 or by E-mail: rustysnaketail@yahoo.com. If you have questions or would like additional information, you can also contact me at the store. As I do each year, I will follow-up in a few weeks with the Count results once they become available.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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