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Tis the season — for bird counting

Living the Wild Life

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My bird feeders are loaded, but they won’t be for long as hungry House finches, American goldfinch, Northern flickers, Red-breasted nuthatches, Downy woodpeckers, and herds of other winter songbirds are emptying them. The Sharp-shinned hawks as well as a Merlin occasionally attack those on the feeders, harvesting an unlucky bird for a warm brunch.

Meanwhile on the Rexburg Bench hundreds of Horned larks with a few flocks of Snow buntings mixed in are feeding on exposed grain along the roads while Grey partridge and a few Grey-crowned Rosy finches are feeding on or around stacks of straw. Power poles often have raptors watching for an injured or lazy bird to harvest for a quick snack.

It is time for the first major winter bird count of the season. The 120th Annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) starts today (Dec. 14) and will run through Jan. 5, 2020, throughout North, Central and South America. In last year’s count there were over 48 million birds counted containing over 2,600 species. Locally I have been involved with three counts; the Idaho Falls, the Rexburg, and my favorite, the Howe count over the years.

This year the Idaho Falls count will occur today (Dec. 14) while the Rexburg count will be on Dec. 21 and the Howe count is being planned for Dec. 27. These dates coincide closely with last years.

In the Idaho Falls count in 2018, 21 participants counted 55 species while Rexburg had 13 participants with 62 species tallied. The Howe count is kind of a special one as the count coincides with one of the largest congregations of wintering raptors in the nation. Seven of us counted 42 species including over 200 Rough-legged hawks and over 20 Prairie falcons. In the 2017 count we had three Gyrfalcons in that count and we usually get about six Virginia rails along a warm creek.

Each count is well organized with a compiler as the leader who assigns areas for teams of two or three people to try to count every bird within a 15-mile circle. Ideal is to have a driver, spotter and a person tallying the number and species of the birds seen for the day. Using calls to locate bird are legal but trail cams or other remote sensing devices cannot be used.

At the end of the day, the compiler meets with each tallying group for their reports of the daily count. The compiler can also receive reports of species of birds, but not numbers of them, from observers three days before and three days after the count day. These are recorded as “count week” birds.

“The Christmas Bird Count is a great tradition and opportunity for everyone to be part of 120 years of ongoing community service,” writes Geoff LeBaron, Audubon’s CBC director. “Adding your observations to 12 decades of data help scientists and conservationists discover trends that make our work more meaningful.”

These counts provide a picture of how the bird population have changed over time. We have some species that are disappearing at alarming rates such as the Bobwhite quail while a specie like the Red-breasted nuthatch has staged a major irruption.

If you are interested in being considered in helping the Rexburg CBC you can contact compiler, Darren Clark at clark@byui.edu or call him at (208) 390-0031. If you are an avid birder and would like to help with the Howe count, you can check with Kit Struthers at kit619@centurylink.net to see if there is a need for help.

In the meantime, it is time to put out bird feeders to attract birds to your yard or if you have already done that and have an odd bird showing up, contact one of us as we would love to see it.

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