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Dec - Jan Bird Blog: Who's Counting?

February 5, 2019



Christmas Bird Count 2018


On December 15th a group of us, led by an accomplished birder, Dan Nickerson, identified bird species and counted them over an eight hour period on Peaks Island. Including birds seen in the Casco Bay Lines wharf area, and crossing the Bay to Peaks, we identified 56 separate species and counted 1183 birds (please see the Christmas Bird Count lists at 2018 Bird Lists). The endeavor is part of the annual Christmas Bird Count, and for Peaks, was a new high for a count that has been going on for years. A few of the more uncommon species we observed included the Horned Grebe, the Iceland Gull, the Razorbill, the Fox Sparrow, and the Red-shouldered Hawk.



                 Horned Grebe                                         Photo © Wikipedia Commons


                   Razorbill                                                         Photo © Wikipedia Commons


                   Fox Sparrow                                                   Photo © Wikipedia Commons


                   Red-shouldered Hawk                                      Photo © Wikipedia Commons




Before the year 1900, hunters would go out at Christmas to compete in a Christmas Bird Hunt to see who could bring in the largest number of birds (and mammals). Conservationists, even at that time, became concerned with the effect this slaughter would have on bird populations. (Consider the Passenger Pigeon.) Accordingly, beginning that year, Christmas Bird Counts were organized and conducted by 27 birders in 25 separate areas. All areas combined reported about 90 species.


The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) has evolved to become the largest and longest running citizen science survey in the world, and, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, performs a census of birds in the entire Western hemisphere. Compared to the year 1900 this year’s statistics are mind-blowing: 2585 separate counts conducted by almost 77,000 birders; the total number of species was 2673.


Each “count” is conducted by a varying number of birders in a “count circle” roughly 15 miles in diameter, as is ours, and may be conducted any time from December 14 to January 5th.  The census is by no means as accurate as a human population census, and is largely a function of the experience of the birders. (Nickerson is absolutely incredible in this regard.)  Nor can the numbers of birds be precisely reported; try to count the number of Common Eiders off back shore when there are four or five flotillas of them about 100 yards away.


The extremely long historical perspective of the CBC, now over a century, gives conservationists vital information and strategies for protecting birds and their habitats, and identifying environmental issues locally as well. Effects of climate change and destruction of habitat (e.g., rain forests, marshes, grasslands) on birds can be better understood with CBC data on population trends over 119 years. (ref. 1)


Future standardization of citizen-collected data should become useful in addressing specific bird mortality questions regarding collisions with windows (ref. 2), which kill ~ 365 to 988 million birds per year. The number one cause of bird deaths is free-ranging domestic cats at 1.3 to 4 billion per year (ref. 3).



The Great Backyard Bird Count February 2019


An associated census, The Great Backyard Bird Count, was begun 20 years ago, and this census is worldwide. It introduces children and beginners to birding, and to census taking.  Any locale may be chosen; a backyard is not necessary. A time span of as little as 15 minutes is all that is necessary. The 21st annual GBBC will be held Friday, February 15, through Monday, February 18. An informational session will be held Thursday, February 7th in the Community Room of the Library Building. Groups, or group leaders, who choose to participate, can meet us there, and we have volunteered to act as local ‘experts’ to help with species identification.

Whether you report Buffleheads in Diamond Pass, Mallards down front, American Goldfinches at your bird feeder, or Common Eiders off back shore, “every bird counts,” as they say.


We hope to see you at 7PM on February 7th at PI Community Center.  It is rumored there will be cookies.



                   Buffleheads                                                         Photo © Michael LaCombe


                   Mallards                                                             Photo © Michael LaCombe


                   Female Common Eider                                     Photo © Wikipedia Commons





By: Michael LaCombe and Sam Wainright

Reviewed by: Patty Wainright



1. History of the Audubon Bird Count:


2. Loss, S. R., T. Will, S. S. Loss, and P. P. Marra. 2014. Bird-building collisions in the Untied States: Estimates of annual mortality and species vulnerability. The Condor. 116(1):8-24.

3. Loss, S. R., T. Will, and P.P. Marra. 2012. The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States. Nature Communications. 4:1396 doi: 10.1038/ncomms2380.





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