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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

December 28, 2012 at 7:00 AM

It’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count time again

It’s bird count time again, as birders both novice and expert head out all over Seattle to take stock of the birds in our midst.

Begun in 1900, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count is believed to be the longest-running citizen science projects in the world. The notes taken help scientists understand how bird populations are faring and changing over time, not only here, but around the country.

The tradition is believed to have started as an alternative to hunting birds on Christmas day, said Toby Ross, science manager at Seattle Audubon.

bird+count+birders.jpg

Alan Berner, staff photographer for The Seattle Times,

took those photo of local birders at work in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count in 2011

In Seattle, the count takes place every year on the last Saturday in December. Birders divide up in teams to tackle count circles measuring 15 miles apart. Beginning in the darkness before dawn, with some birders counting owls, the count continues until nightfall, with birders noting “everything with a pulse and feathers,” as their saying at Audubon goes.

The day concludes with a potluck and fellowship at the Wedgewood Presbyterian Church at 8008 35th Ave NE, where birders turn in their data.

The data has helped spotlight local trends, such as the advent of Anna’s hummingbirds taking up year round residence in the city. It used to be the animals were only migratory, arriving in the spring, but by putting out feeders, people have changed that pattern. Anna’s are now year round residents in Seattle.

Last year’s count noted 129 species on count day, the second lowest total in the past 15 years. Notable among the missing were Bonaparte’s gulls, slate-colored juncos, Brewer’s blackbirds, and Western screech owls. However notable finds included two western tanangers in two locations.

Record high counts for the modern period (1973-present) were logged for snow geese, Pacific loons, peregrine falcons, pileated woodpeckers, common ravens, song sparrows and American goldfinches.

Another notable was the log of 74 bald eagles. Up until 1990, double-digit eagle numbers were never recorded.

This year, 36 Christmas Bird Counts will take place all over the state, from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.

For more information, see Audubon’s CBC website

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