This year, Dec. 14 kicks off the busiest portion of the serious birder’s year: the Christmas Bird Count season. Across North and Central America, birders will take to the field for one calendar day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. It’s a long-standing citizen science tradition, dating back more than 110 years, that has provided valuable data regarding bird population increases and declines, range expansion and contraction, and movements of some species from year to year.
The concept is simple: Count every bird you see within a designated circle of 15-mile diameter during one calendar day. There are six Christmas Counts in Mecklenburg and adjacent counties this year where the date of the count has been set; Gastonia (Dec. 15), southern Lake Norman (Dec. 16), Charlotte (Dec. 22), York-Rock Hill (Dec. 22), Catawba Valley (Dec. 26), and Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge (Dec. 29).
I participate in four local counts and two in Wilmington and Southport.
A typical count day for me begins before dawn at a strategic site to listen for owls and American woodcock. I then try to schedule visits to feeders where hosts have hummingbirds or other unusual species that they have alerted me about. The bulk of the remainder of the day is spent checking a variety of habitats like fields, agricultural areas, bottomland, upland forest, small ponds, and open water.
Participants may call in at midday to report on how the day is going, and to receive information on what species need to be searched for in the afternoon. The results of the day’s efforts are shared at a tally-up dinner at the end of the day.
Folks can also participate without having to get out into the field on count day. By simply reporting rare or unusual birds at feeders, a significant contribution can be made. Compilers are especially interested this year in hummingbirds, orioles and finches. If you think you have something unusual visiting your feeder, let me know and I will pass the information along to the appropriate compiler. At the end of the count period, I will share highlights of the season with you.