Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are urging wildlife enthusiasts to join the tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the United States in the Audubon Society’s 116th Annual Christmas Bird Count, taking place through Jan. 5.
Participants in this year’s count already are excitedly reporting their results.
The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen-science survey in the world, and the data collected through the count allows researchers, conservation biologists, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.
Local counts will occur on one day, sometime on or before Jan. 5. Volunteers can pick the most convenient circle, or participate in more than one count. There is a specific methodology to the Christmas Bird Count, but everyone can participate. The count takes place within “Count Circles,” which focus on specific geographical areas. Each circle is led by a “Count Compiler,” who is an experienced birdwatcher, enabling beginning birders to learn while they assist.
Those who live within the boundaries of a Count Circle can even stay at home and report the birds that visit their backyard feeders.
In either case, the first step is to locate a Count Circle that’s seeking participants and contact the local Count Compiler on Audubon’s website, www.audubon.org, to find out how you can volunteer.
There is no fee to participate in the Christmas Bird Count.
Douglas Gross, who heads up the Game Commission’s endangered and non-game bird section, said data collected through the Christmas Bird Count is valuable in monitoring the distribution of bird species. The agency can use these data to track changes in species populations and better manage our feathered resources.
In the 2015 count, for instance, Carolina wrens were detected in all but one of the state’s Count Circles – continuing a positive trend for a bird once regularly found only in Pennsylvania’s southeastern counties. The 2015 count also was able to document a pine siskin invasion, and tracked cackling goose numbers in Pennsylvania at all-time highs.
With the very mild weather this winter, there may be many surprises found during these counts. For example, many more American robins are being found in some count circles due to the mild weather and abundance of soft mast.
The data generated from the Christmas Bird Count is published each year on the National Audubon website and summarized each year in the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology’s journal, “Pennsylvania Birds.”
By reporting their results in eBird, the data are available to others and to the agency for its management.
But helping to provide important information isn’t the only reason to participate, Gross said.
“It’s a lot of fun, too,” he said.