Ohio’s birds are banking on you during the annual Christmas Bird Count
Thousands of birding enthusiasts are gearing up for a big day in the field, both here in Ohio and across the nation, and you’re invited! This December, all you need is a pair of binoculars and a sharp pencil to take part in the largest and oldest wildlife survey of its kind in North America.
The 105th Christmas Bird Count begins December 14 and ends January 5. On any given day during those three weeks, groups of volunteers record each bird and bird species they see or hear within a defined 15-mile radius. This means tromping through a variety of habitats, including wetlands, woodlands, fields and even some urban neighborhoods.
All birds make a difference in this survey, even common backyard birds, such as House Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays and Mourning Doves, as well as, ducks, hawks, woodpeckers and every feathered thing in between.
Wondering what difference it makes if 15 American crows are counted during a single outing? Well, after the count, bird totals are added to a database featuring more than a century’s worth of unbroken data. In turn, this rich resource helps the scientists who study birds known as ornithologists to evaluate how changing environmental conditions impact population numbers and migration patterns of early winter birds.
For example, according to the National Audubon Society, the Christmas Bird Count database
has helped ornithologists to “better understand the magnitude of the effects of West Nile virus on regional bird populations.”
A more localized example focuses on the urbanization of central Ohio, according to Jim McCormac, a birding authority with the state’s Division of Wildlife. “Diminishing grasslands and farm country have driven out bird species that need such habitat for survival. A case in point is the Eastern Meadowlark, whose departure from the Columbus area has been clearly chronicled by the Christmas Bird Count.” He added that the colorful grassland bird and its melodious song have not been recorded during the Columbus count for the past 25 years.
The birth of a tradition
During the 1800s, it was customary on Christmas Day for local communities across America to sponsor unregulated wildlife hunts. The practice began to cause concern among conservation-minded individuals of the time, such as New York ornithologist Frank Chapman. In response, Chapman proposed a new tradition in which people ventured into the woods and fields to count birds instead of shooting birds.
On December 25, 1900, he and a covey of 27 volunteers did just that counting birds at 25 locations across the United State and two Canadian provinces. Ninety bird species and more than 18,000 individual birds were counted that auspicious day.
Ohio has been part of this holiday tradition since that very first count 105 years ago, when a volunteer in Oberlin recorded a total of 14 species, including a Red-shouldered Hawk, 14 Purple Finches and just one Northern Cardinal. But when it comes to the most consecutive counts, Buckeye Lake 30 miles east of Columbus holds the state title, having held a Christmas Bird Count every year since 1922.
Last year, Ohio’s 54 count circles tallied 151 species, which came out to be more than one million individual birds.
During the last century, the number of volunteers for the Christmas Bird Count has grown dramatically. This year, more than 50,000 people from all 50 states, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America and the Pacific Islands are expected to be out en masse, counting the birds of the western hemisphere.
Anyone with an enthusiasm for birds is invited to participate in this holiday outing. And don’t worry if you are new to the sport. Those with limited experience are always paired with more knowledgeable birders. For more information about joining a count circle, call Audubon Ohio at 614-224-3303.You also can go online at audubon.org/chapter/oh/oh/ or ohiobirds.org
Make your mark on science by volunteering for this year’s Christmas Bird Count. Not only will you learn more about Ohio’s winter birds and conservation, you’ll have fun and maybe make a friend or two.