Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Christmas Counts Spark the Holiday Season
December 15, 2012

By Steve Grinley

     If you see a person, or small group of people with binoculars staring at your bird feeders over the next couple of weeks, they are, likely, participants in the Christmas Bird Count. This weekend marks the start of the 113th annual Christmas Bird Count. Teams of birders and individuals across the United States and beyond count species and the number of birds of each species on a day within a two week period. 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. Over 50,000 observers participate in this day-long census.

     Each Count circle is 15 miles in radius. You can participate in a count by joining a team in the field, or reporting birds at your feeders. Participation is free. The Andover Count is today, Saturday December 15. The Cape Ann Count is on Sunday.

     The Newburyport Christmas Bird Count is next Sunday, the 23rd . The Newburyport Count Circle stretches for Plum Island to Georgetown and from Salisbury to Rowley and parts of Ipswich. You can count the number of birds at your feeders or, even more important, report any unusual birds at your feeders that day. Counters are hoping that some rare or lingering species will stick around for the count.

     Last winter, a Baltimore oriole spent the winter at a feeder in the south end of Newburyport. I received a call this week about a very late oriole visiting a feeder in Amesbury. If that bird stays around for the count, it will be noteworthy. Any unusual birds that are found during “Count week” but not on the day of the count, can be included in the records. Count week includes three days before, and three days after the day of the actual count.

     Margo and I usually help our friend Phil Brown cover areas in Hamilton and Wenham for the Cape Ann Count, Phil’s land-locked area involves counting lots of chickadees, nuthatches and titmice. We sometimes encounter a “good” bird including ravens, pileated woodpeckers and a rusty blackbird on past counts.

     We also cover parts of Plum Island for the Newburyport Count which can be a little more exciting. With this year’s eruption of winter finches, we will be on the lookout for crossbills, redpolls, and pine grosbeaks. There has been a barred owl for the past couple of weeks on the island, and we usually find the resident great horned owls. With any luck, we might find a saw-whet, long-eared, or snowy owl. Sometimes collecting data can be fun!

     The winter solstice and the shortest days of the year are upon us, and the cold is settling in. Be sure to have food out for the birds and keep the feeders full to help them through the frigid weather to come. Add suet to your menu as it is a good source of energy for birds year around, but particularly during the colder months. As fresh water becomes frozen and scarce, consider adding a heater to your bird bath to keep water open during the winter months. They cost pennies to operate and they could be the only source of open water available to some birds.

     If you are struggling for that last minute Christmas gift, a bird feeder can be a great present. Whether it is a “secret Santa” gift, for a parent, grandparent or child, a bird feeder can bring nature closer to home and can provide a pleasurable pastime for the recipient. Even if someone has bird feeders, they can always use another. There are so many varieties of feeders today, another feeder will supplement their offering to the birds. A bird feeder has the added benefit of helping the birds survive the cold winter ahead. For the recipient, it will bring them joy and it might spark enough interest that they, too, might participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count next year!

     Wishing you and yours a peaceful holiday season and a New Year full of amazing birds!

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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