Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, PhotographerThe Audubon Christmas Bird Count is the nation’s longest-running community science project and it fuels international research throughout the year. Seasoned birders and beginners alike spend a day counting our local populations of bird species. Those just starting to notice birds can be valuable spotters in the mobile sectors, and can easily learn to observe the subtle differences between similar species we’re likely to notice when looking out the window from home for a few minutes.
The Bridgerland Audubon Society launched the Cache Christmas Bird Count watch circle in 1955, contributing to a tradition launched in 1900 by ornithologist Frank M.
Chapman who out of concern for dwindling bird populations managed to change the culture from annual Christmas bird shooting contests into bird counting contests. Bridgerland Audubon always schedules on the first Saturday on or following December 14th, and typically documents about 100 species of birds.
The Cache Valley watch circle is divided into eleven sectors and includes all homes within a 7.5 mile radius from the center of the circle which is located at Main Street & Hyde Park Lane (Hwy 91 & 3600 N). The same 15-mile diameter watch circle is surveyed each December – that’s about 177 square miles, and we can use all the help we can get, especially from folks watching from home. Don’t worry if you can’t identify all of the birds you see – you will just report the ones you do recognize. You can also get help by posting photos to the Bridgerland Audubon Facebook group.
The Home Sector provides a lot of extra data on about 32 species, the most common of which are available on a one page photo-illustrated checklist on the Bridgerland Audubon website where you will also find links to the free Merlin App which identifies birds by their songs. The Visitors Bureau has a nice selection of Utah Bird field guides which are great for beginners.
Bird identification is all about learning to notice the little differences in size, coloration patterns, shape of the beak, the crown of the head, and the end of the tail. For example a House Finch and a Cassin’s Finch may look the same at first glance, but the House Finch has streaks on the side of the body, a rounded tail tip, and the red over the eyes is more like a headband than a top hat. The Cassin’s Finch has a notched tail and lacks those streaks on the breast and and sides. The Pine Siskin looks like a tiny House Finch but it has a hint of yellow on its wings and the beak is small and pointed. Don’t forget that zero is a number! If you’re lucky you might even get creative inspiration as did one participant who didn’t see any birds but did write a poem which they asked be attributed to anonymous:
Christmas Count Lament:
I watched and watched all day,
not one bird did come my way.
Though snow gave way to sun,
still, not a single one.
No delicate song,
no fluttering wing;
no pecking or scratching
How less dimensional
the world would be,
if there were no bird song to hear
or fluttering to see.
– By Anonymous
Visit Audubon.org to find a Christmas Bird Count near you, and visit bridgerlandaudubon.org to join the local count on Saturday, December 18th, 2021. Preregistration is free but required. We will be observing COVID safety guidelines.
I’m Hilary Shughart with Bridgerland Audubon and I am Wild About Utah!
Photo: House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), Courtesy US FWS, Kramer, Gary, Photographer, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/14084/rec/3
Photo: Cassin’s Finch (Carpodacus cassinii), Courtesy US FWS, Menke, Dave, Photographer, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/1710/rec/1
Photo: Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus), Courtesy US FWS, Menke, Dave, Photographer, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/7388/rec/1
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text & Voice: Hilary Shughart, President, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Bridgerland Audubon CBC Toolkit, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/cache-valley-christmas-bird-count/
National Audubon Data: Annual Summaries of the Christmas Bird Count, 1901-Present, https://www.audubon.org/content/american-birds-annual-summary-christmasbird-count
General Tips for Bird Identification:
Mayntz, Melissa, Jizz Definition – Bird Identification, Learn to Identify Birds by Jizz, Updated on 08/04/21 https://www.thespruce.com/jizz-definition-bird-identification-385284
Tips from eBird on How to count large flocks of birds: “Big numbers of Moving Birds. Their are two ways to count large flocks of moving birds: either by blocking off a group of individuals, counting them, and then extrapolating to the whole of the flock; or by counting birds per unit of time.” https://ebird.org/news/counting-101/
The annual plumage cycle of a male American Goldfinch – Sibley Guides https://www.sibleyguides.com/2012/05/the-annual-plumage-cycle-of-a-male-americangoldfinch/
L.A.F., Illustrator, Dark Eyed Junco, Supercoloring.com, Copyright 2008-2021, Junco Coloring Page https://www.supercoloring.com/coloring-pages/dark-eyed-junco?version=print
Utah-Centric Books & Field Guides:
Tekiela, Stan, Birds of Utah Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Apr 21, 2003, https://www.amazon.com/Birds-Utah-Field-Guide-Tekiela/dp/1591930197/
Fenimore, Bill, Backyard Birds of Utah: How to Identify and Attract the Top 25 Birds, Gibbs Smith, March 27, 2008, https://www.amazon.com/Backyard-Birds-Utah-IdentifyAttract/dp/1423603532/
Kavanagh, James, Utah Birds: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species (Wildlife and
Nature Identification) Pamphlet, Waterford Press, September 1, 2017, https://www.amazon.com/Utah-Birds-Folding-Familiar-Naturalist/dp/1583551328/