The tradition of conducting Christmas Bird Counts began 116 years ago, and stemmed from concerns about diminishing bird populations. At the time, the threats to birds were over-hunting for food, sport, and the millinery trade. Today the threats are different but the concern is still with us. And so the Christmas Bird Count tradition continues, and each year more and more people participate. Last year about 2000 counts were conducted from Alaska to Argentina and from Hawaii to Newfoundland. The 50,000 people who participated, counted in excess of 100 million birds. The counts are organised by the National Audubon Society in the United States and by Bird Studies Canada, in Canada.
Each count is conducted according to a specified set of rules. The count organizer must first determine the location of the count by defining a circle of radius 12 km. Then, on the chosen date, small groups of observers are sent into specific areas of the circle to identify and count the birds they see. By restricting observers to a specific area, the risk of counting birds twice is minimized. All counts must be conducted within the same three week period starting in mid December.
Not surprisingly, the number of birds and species varies from one location to another. Most years the count with the highest number of species is in Panama, usually with about 350. In North America, one of the California counts usually leads the way with well over 200 species. The highest Canadian count is usually either Victoria or Ladner with about 150 species. In comparison, Nakusp typically records between 40 and 45 species. While the number of species is interesting, the number of individual birds is just as important. And while Panama may have the most species, it certainly does not have the most individual birds. Some species tend to form huge wintering flocks; one count in Louisiana recorded over 25 million Red-winged Blackbirds! (How would you like to count those?)
This year, the Nakusp count was conducted on Jan. 2. New Denver held theirs on Dec. 30. In the next edition I will give a full report on these two counts.