For the Birds Radio Program: Christmas Bird Count

Original Air Date: Dec. 19, 1986

Tomorrow is Duluth’s annual Christmas Bird Count. What can we expect? (3:45)

Audio missing

Transcript

Boreal Chickadee (Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)

Tomorrow is the day of the annual Christmas Bird Count here in Duluth–the day when both serious birders and more casual birdwatchers hit the streets en masse searching out every single bird within a 7 1/2 mile radius of Hawk Ridge. The Bird Count is a big event–in some years over 60 people have participated, discovering some surprising rarities. Birds that belong further south that have turned up on recent counts include a bluebird, a catbird, a brown thrasher, and even a mockingbird! In many years, species from the far north are counted, including gyrfalcons and snowy owls, both of which are regularly seen in the Duluth harbor in winter. In many years someone spots a Great Gray Owl– that’s the species pictured in a big photograph near the entrance to the Hardee’s on London Road. Naturally, the most abundant bird in most years is the Rock Dove, the common pigeon. In 1984, there were 7412 of them counted, mostly downtown and in the harbor. That year the second- place bird was the House Sparrow, with 1375, but the Black-capped Chickadee wasn’t far behind–1254 of them were counted.

Last year a lot of people were complaining about how few birds were at their feeders. But the count turned out to be a reasonably good one anyway, with 47 species seen, probably because so many people were out looking. This year promises to be even better–Gray Jays and Boreal Chickadees are still hanging around town; I’ve seen a few big flocks of Bohemian waxwings; and crossbills, pine grosbeaks, and other northern finches are turning up in a few places. But it’s impossible to see every single bird in the area, so we probably miss one or two species visiting feeders every year. If you have anything unusual at your feeder that might help the count, especially finches or owls, let Kim Eckert, the compiler, know about it. You can call him at 525-6930.

The Christmas Bird Count is hardly just a local event. The tradition began in the northeastern United States on Christmas Day in 1900, when small groups of birdwatchers strolled around 25 different locations. Now over 1500 areas are counted, in every Canadian province, every American state, Bermuda, many Central American countries, and numerous West Indian islands. All the results are sent to the National Audubon Society to be published in their journal, American Birds. The highest count of all last year was 324 species seen in the Atlantic area of the Panama Canal Zone–the highest count within the U.S. was Freeport, Texas, with 207. The lowest count was 21 species tallied at the Gardiner Dam, south of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Although birders are often attracted to the Christmas Bird count by its social or its sporting aspects, the count also reveals interesting and scientifically useful information about the early-winter distributions of birds. All in all, it’s a good way to take a break from the more commercial aspects of the season, and see a few good birds as well.

(Recording of a chickadee)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”