The Christmas Bird Count is an annual bird census held within 10 days of Christmas over the past 113 years in Canada, the United States and Latin America.
Last year, an unbelievable number of bird species were seen in the tropics, including 492 species reported on the Yanayacu, Equador count. Participants in the Prudhoe Bay, Alaska count, the land of eternal winter darkness, reported only one "lousy" bird, the glorious raven, for 25 years in a row.
The effort to count and identify every bird seen during a 24-hour period provides valuable scientific information for wildlife managers who want to protect and preserve birds.
The mallard ducks observed here on Jones and Gifford Avenue were included in the more than 400 mallard ducks reported within the 7.5-mile radius circle around the center of Jamestown during the Christmas Bird Count held on Dec. 16.
Photo by Robert M. Ungerer
The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) started in 1900 under the National Audubon Society direction as a method to count resident bird species. Winter was chosen over migration and breeding seasons when birds were transient. Observing resident winter birds along migration flyways helped federal game regulators monitor populations of ducks and geese so hunting regulations could be changed if populations declined.
Before the turn to the 20th century, annual bird counts tallied and identified birds after they were shot. Bird counts were considered a great shooting sport, which the Audubon Society replaced with the sport of identification by observation.
Their census provides scientific value because each locality performing a count covers the same area each year, the land inside a 7.5-mile radius circle. The circle for Jamestown's CBC is at the junction of Buffalo Street and the second Stowe Street, so Chautauqua Lake to Ashville Bay, the Audubon Sanctuary on Riverside Road in Frewsburg, and the countryside around Gerry fall within the circle - thereby providing different habitats.
Last year, 2,248 CBC groups participated, including 1,739 in the United States, 410 in Canada and 99 in Latin America and the Caribbean. Observers totaled 54,000 in the field with 9,000 watching birds at feeders. Close to 65 million individual birds were counted from 2,208 different species. In the United States, 666 different species were recorded, while Canada reported 303 species.
Count data compiled annually for 40 years revealed an increase in populations of the bald eagle, permitting its removal from the endangered species list in 2007. The American kestrel, a local summer resident falcon, unfortunately experienced a decline in numbers over the last 30 years.
Bird watchers go to special efforts to identify elusive bird species. Recorded bird calls can be played in the field to entice a reluctant owl or marsh bird to answer; identifying a bird by its call counts as "seen." Playing recorded songs during the breeding season is avoided because calls can disturb nesting birds trying to raise a family.
Personally, while living in the Jamestown area for 35 years, I have participated in most of the Christmas Bird Counts, missing just a few due to my work schedule. It is my favorite day of the year. The excitement of the day begins with a shared fast-food breakfast with my two fellow bird watchers. The day ends with a pot-luck supper either at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute or - like this year on Dec. 16 - at the new home of Ruth Lundin and her husband, Paul. Each of the eight individual groups surveying assigned areas within the count circle report their census numbers to the compiler, Dr. Bill Seleen, at the supper. This year, the Jamestown CBC reported 71 different species, including several robins, bluebirds and kingfishers. Canada geese totaled 700, while 220 redhead ducks were seen near Ashville Bay. Several hundred starlings and more than 400 pigeons were reported. Three bald eagles were spotted on the outlet in Celoron.
Christmas Bird Counts in large metropolitan areas draw 100-300 observers. Jamestown had only 25 observers plus feeder watchers this year, so the Audubon Society welcomes and encourages newcomers to join next year's count. In this case, no experience is necessary. One can learn from the fanatic bird watchers on the count. Call the Audubon Society at 569-2345 to be put on a list to be notified about participating in next year's Christmas Bird Count.