Annual bird count brings out citizen scientists

Photo submitted by Gary Gulash

Masha Scheele
reporter@hintonvoice.ca


The annual Christmas Bird Count enters its 120th year in North America and the 33rd year for Hinton and Brule.

The longest-running citizen science census returns to Hinton on Dec. 26 and to Brule on Dec. 27. Locals go out during the bird count each year to record the number of birds and the different species they spot. 

Coordinator of the project, Beth MacCallum, collects that data and puts it into a national database to help assess winter bird population trends and distribution across North America.

The information collected by thousands of volunteer participants now forms one of the world’s largest sets of wildlife survey data and the results are used daily by conservation biologists and naturalists, explained Laura Trout, West Fraser senior biologist.

“If declines are detected it helps to implement conservation actions. Or the opposite is to detect increases which would be conservation success stories,” said Trout about the data.

The project started in the 1900s, and the tradition of the count continues in over 2000 localities throughout the Western Hemisphere.

“A lot of that came down to naturalists and enthusiasts who not only went out to appreciate the birds [but] also to count them and that became a popular thing to do in the 1900’s,” said Trout.

Participants can count the birds from their living room windows or they can actively go out to count the birds.

Counts are carried out within a 24-km diameter circle from Green Square in Hinton, which stays the same from year to year. 

“I have a long standing route I take in my truck with different observation points along it. It covers probably 15 kilometres somewhere inside that 24 km radius,” said Trout.

Participants don’t have to be expert birders to take part in the census, added Trout.

“Even people who just give it a try, they actually end up finding that they know more birds than they realize,” she said.

She added that the count doesn’t have to be perfect and whatever is counted is just part of the process.

“They don’t have to ID everything, even the amount of ravens is useful information,” she added.

Last year, 32 Hintonites drove, walked, and watched backyard feeders for the Christmas Bird Count held on boxing day, 2018. 

Mild weather helped contribute to a solid bird count of 2,184 birds and 34 species, the third highest count on record. 

The highest count in Hinton was in 2001 when 2,601 birds and 38 species were recorded, while Brule’s record count was in 2007 when 811 birds and 27 species were counted.

Twenty participants walked 42 kilometres around Brule in 2018 to count 798 birds, the second highest count on record.

Observations of a Northern Shrike, Barred Owl, Great Gray Owl and Northern Pygmy-Owl helped set an all time record for Brule with 34 species.

For more information on the count or to see last year’s data go to audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count

Contact Beth MacCallum at wjclub@telus.net or 780-865-4906 to participate.