On your mark, get set, count!

Calling all birdwatchers! The annual Christmas Bird Count will happen this year on Sunday, Dec. 19.

Calling all birdwatchers!

The annual Christmas Bird Count will happen this year on Sunday, Dec. 19.

The count dates back to 1900 and was started by a fellow named Frank Chapman. At that time, to count the birds involved shotguns. So Frank started up the count so that people wouldn’t shoot them, just count them.

That first count happened in New York and involved only 27 people but they counted 18,500 individual birds from 90 different species.

Nowadays, there are more than 52,000 counters counting hundreds of millions of individual birds from 650 species through North America.

Because there is data dating back all the way to 1900, the information gathered has been able to show trends in populations and has been used for scientific research.

But the thing about the count is that it is fun! Anyone can do it. You don’t have to be an expert birder. All you have to do is be able to recognize a few species and count past 10.

You can be a “bush beater” or “feeder watcher.” So if it’s a really cold day, you don’t even have to leave your house. All you have to do is watch your feeder and try to figure out how many birds are there.

The only problem with that is that you don’t want to count the same bird twice.

Instead of counting every time a chickadee lands on your feeder, what you do is count how many are there at one time.

If you have seven at or around the feeder one time and then a little later, you count nine, then you would scratch off the seven and put nine in. You wouldn’t be counting that as 16 birds.

Bush beaters go to an area and walk around the area counting whatever birds are there.

You don’t have to walk. You could ski, drive, or whatever kind of locomotion you want to use. We’ve had snowmobilers, snowshoers, horseback riders in the past.

Our Central Alberta count is a bit different than a lot of the other counts in that we have 27 different circles that people can count in. A circle is 15 km in diameter.

People either do part or all of a circle. We try not to have counters in the same area. That’s why it’s important for me (I have the official title of Christmas Bird Count Compiler) to know if you are counting and where.

That way I will know that if someone is already counting at Maskepatoon Park here in Red Deer and someone else calls me and says they want to do that same park, I will either put the two people in touch with each other so they can do the count together or I’ll get one or the other person to choose a different location.

The only other thing that you absolutely have to do if you are participating in the count is to fill out a tally sheet.

You can pick those up at the nature centre, print them off from the Red Deer River Naturalist website (www.rdrn.fanweb.ca and go to Coming Events — the count stuff will be there soon) or you can contact me and I’ll send you the form (call the RDRN office at 403-347-8200 and leave a message or email me at rd.rn@hotmail.com and make sure you put Christmas Bird Count in the subject line).

It’s important to make the tally sheets as complete as possible.

You’ll be asked to state things like, what the weather was, how long you were counting for, how far you walked, things like that. This information helps to clarify things. For example, if you only saw one bald eagle, it would be important to know that you were only counting for five minutes. A low count could also be explained away by the fact that it was blizzarding.

Let me know if you want to participate. The more the merrier. And if you don’t want to count on your own, let me know that too and I’ll see if I can hook you up with another bird counter. Happy birding to all!

Judy Boyd is a naturalist with the Red Deer River Naturalists.