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PA residents urged to participate in Christmas Bird Count

From the Pennsylvania Game Commission

-- Officials are urging wildlife enthusiasts to join thousands of volunteers throughout the United States in the Audubon Society's 111th Annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.

Data collected through this effort, the longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations, allows researchers, conservation biologists and others to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.  

When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent's bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.

Local counts will occur on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Volunteers can pick the most convenient circle or participate in more than one count. There is a specific methodology to the CBC, but everyone can participate. The count takes place within Count Circles, which focus on specific geographical areas.

Each circle is led by a Count Compiler, an experienced birdwatcher, enabling beginning birders to learn while they assist.   Also, those who live within the boundaries of a Count Circle can stay at home and report the birds that visit their backyard feeders or join a group of birdwatchers in a local field.

Doug Gross, Game Commission ornithologist, said the Christmas bird count contributes to conservation because it allows monitoring of bird species that spend winters in Pennsylvania.

"Some of these species are much easier to count or monitor in winter because their breeding ground is so far north in areas where there are few people or roads to give access to habitat," Gross said. "An example of this is the rusty blackbird that migrates from the boreal taiga forests of Canada and Alaska to the southeastern United States in winter.
Pennsylvania is on the northern edge of its winter range, and some CBCs do count this declining wetland songbird. Hawks also are more easily counted in winter and our state is a good place to see several hawk species in winter, including red-tailed hawks and rough-legged hawks."

Gross also noted that the CBC is a good way to introduce beginners to bird identification.  

"There are fewer bird species around in winter than at other times of year, so it is easier to learn the bird species identification," Gross said. "Also, birds are easier to spot because there are not so many leaves on the trees where birds are well-hidden in spring and summer. In fact, many birders started out in winter in a car with more experienced birders on a Christmas count.  CBC allows for mentoring in the field.  

"A wide variety of birds are observed in winter counts including a wide variety of songbirds and our upland game birds, mostly permanent residents. It is a challenge, for instance, to find a ruffed grouse on a CBC in many circles. People go out of their way to find a wintering woodcock in a seepy area, in a wet pasture or along a stream.

"Birders learn more about habitat associations and the value of cover and food sources for birds, such as wild fruits like winterberry, rose hips and sumac. For instance, bluebirds, hermit thrushes, and American robins are often found in grape arbors, sumac patches or other places where wild fruits are located."

For volunteers who have never been on a CBC before the first step is to locate and contact a local Count Compiler to find out how to volunteer.

To view instructions on how to search for a circle and sign-up for an open count, visit www.pgc.state.pa.us and click on "Wildlife" in menu bar at the top of the homepage, and then choose the "Christmas Bird Count" under the "Wild Birds and Birding" listing.  

Information also can be obtained from Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count website at  http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count or on the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology's website, www.pabirds.org.

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