Reminder: Christmas Bird Count — call for bird lovers on Dec. 16

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Pileated Woodpeckers

If you live in Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood or surrounding areas, the Pilchuck Audubon Society is looking for your help this coming Saturday, Dec. 16, with the 118th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) — the longest running citizen science survey. You don’t even have to leave home as birdwatchers of all ages are needed to count birds that visit yards and home bird feeders that day.

“Pilchuck Audubon is making a special effort to count birds visiting yard bird feeders. Counting the birds at your feeders for as little as 30 minutes can contribute to science.” says Rick Taylor, a volunteer with Pilchuck Audubon. “Recent research has highlighted the importance of suburban habitats and the surprising diversity of bird species that make use of our suburban yards and greenbelts.”

You can help track the health of local bird populations by counting the birds that visit suburban yards and feeders on Dec. 16. To date, over 200 peer-reviewed articles have resulted from analysis done with Christmas Bird Count data. Bird-related citizen science efforts are also critical to understanding how birds are responding to a changing climate. Data from the annual CBC enabled Audubon scientists to discover that 314 species of North American birds are threatened by global warming as reported in Audubon’s groundbreaking Birds and Climate Change Study. The tradition of counting birds combined with modern technology and mapping is enabling researchers to make discoveries that were not possible in earlier decades.

The Edmonds/South Snohomish County CBC is performed in a count circle with a diameter of 15 miles that is centered near Martha Lake in Lynnwood. This circle covers South Everett, Mukilteo, Mill Creek, Lynnwood, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrance, Kenmore, Maltby and much of Bothell.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

In last year’s CBC, people watched their feeders at 59 locations in south Snohomish County and northern King County. They reported the only White-throated Sparrows in the circle, and accounted for 64 percent of the Townsend’s Warblers, and 43 percent of the Anna’s Hummingbirds observed. Collectively, they observed 48 species and 1,880 individual birds. Complete results of last year’s Edmonds CBC can be found on the Pilchuck Audubon website here.

How to participate

You can participate in the Edmonds CBC if you live within the Edmonds/south Snohomish County count area. Directions are provided below to determine if your home is in the count circle. The amount of time you spend counting is up to you. You can observe and count birds in your yard for as little as a half hour, but longer observation periods of one or two hours—or even the entire day—would be highly appreciated.

To confirm that you live within the Edmonds count circle, use this map. Click on the link and when the map is displayed, enter your address in the search box at the top of the page. Then zoom out until the entire count circle is displayed and verify that your home is located within the circle. You will also need to follow specific counting directions which, along with additional general information about the Edmonds CBC, can be found on Pilchuck Audubon’s website at: Detailed Instructions for Home Counters. You can also contact Rick Taylor at taylorrl@outlook.com (or 425-214-2764) or Bob Schmidt at bobs@world-wide.com (or 425-273-1579).

Christmas Bird Count history

Red-winged Blackbird

That first CBC was held on Christmas Day in 1900, and included counts in 25 locations. Today, the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count mobilizes over 72,000 volunteer bird counters each year in more than 2,500 locations across the Western Hemisphere. The CBC utilizes the power of volunteers to track the health of bird populations at a scale that scientists could never accomplish alone. Data compiled in South Snohomish and Northern King County area will record every individual bird and bird species seen in a specified area, contributing to a vast citizen science network that continues a tradition stretching back more than 100 years.

The Christmas Bird Count is an example of an early American wildlife conservation initiative. The late 1800s were a grim time to be a bird. Walking down the streets of any American city, one might see women wearing hats decorated with a sparrow’s wing, a large plume of great egret feathers or the head of a saw-whet owl. Such “bird-hats” were all the rage in Victorian fashion.

Outrage at the killing of birds for these bird hats led directly to the founding of the Audubon Society. Women who saw the carnage of birds being killed for hats started Audubon chapters in protest. Mrs. Harriet Hemenway, a Boston socialite, organized the first Audubon Society in 1896 in Boston, after reading about the slaughter by “plume hunters” of entire rookeries of egrets for their feathers.

The Christmas season was an especially bad time of the year to be a bird during this era, as a partridge was at real risk of being shot out of the pear tree. Hunters went on Christmas day “side” hunts, where participants formed up sides and went into the woods to see which team could kill the most birds.

In a 1900 issue of “Bird Lore” magazine, which later became Audubon Magazine, Dr. Frank Chapman, an ornithologist and early officer in the Audubon Society, proposed an annual Christmas bird-count as an alternative and a protest to the “side hunts.” This year marks the 118th occurrence of Dr. Chapman’s Christmas Bird Count.

— Story and photos By Michael McAuliffe

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