Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

‘Tis the season

Plenty of opportunities to take part in this annual ritual of citizen science

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 12/20/18

REGIONAL— Bird enthusiasts will be gathering around the area over the next two weeks to take part in one of the longest continuously-running examples of citizen science in the world, the annual …

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‘Tis the season

Plenty of opportunities to take part in this annual ritual of citizen science

Posted

REGIONAL— Bird enthusiasts will be gathering around the area over the next two weeks to take part in one of the longest continuously-running examples of citizen science in the world, the annual Christmas Bird Count.

With counts planned in Ely, Cook, Eagles Nest, Isabella, and Aurora, there’s almost certainly a count you can fit into a busy schedule. It can be a great way to work off a few of those extra holiday pounds as well as meet old and possibly new friends who share an interest in the outdoors.

First up is Ely’s count, set for Saturday, Dec. 22, so you’ll want to contact Norma Malinowski right away if you’d like to take part in this popular count. If you need more notice, there are other counts coming up over the next ten days. See contact information in the sidebar below.

Each of the Christmas counts is conducted within a 15-mile-wide count circle, centered on a specific point. CBC participants count all the birds they see on that day within the count circle. Some birders spend the day skiing or snowshoeing through the woods. Others drive the backroads, and still others count the birds at their feeders from the comfort of their living room.

While the count is open to all and is free of charge, all participants will want to contact the count compiler ahead of time so they know where you plan to count, or can assign you a count area.

The Christmas Bird Counts were established by the National Audubon Society in 1900, as an alternative to New Year’s Day bird shoots, which used to be a tradition in much of the U.S. While bird shoots long ago faded into history, interest in the CBC has only grown. Every year, tens of thousands of birders take part in this event, which has now spread to Canada, Mexico, and portions of Central and South America.

It’s a fun way to spend a day, but it’s also important scientific work that has helped professional researchers document changes in bird populations over the decades. And that data becomes more valuable with time and consistency. That’s something that Steve Wilson, who has served as count compiler for the Isabella count since its founding 37 years ago, has strived for. “It’s valuable to have a systematic count and the same compiler, so the methodology doesn’t change,” he said.

Wilson, who lives in Tower, said the information gathered by the counts has helped researchers identify population trends, such as the distinct northward movement of many species in recent years, apparently a response to climate change.

You don’t have to be a bird expert, since in many cases you could be teamed up with an experienced birder, which could make the count a great experience to expand your knowledge about our feathered neighbors and how to identify them. Winter is a good time to learn to identify our year-round resident birds, since the number of species found in the area this time of year is much lower than during the summer months. So don’t waste another day sitting at home. Get out and take part in this year’s Christmas Bird Count.

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