Thirty-seven Years and Counting!
By Dr Karen Antell
On Christmas Day in 1900, Frank Chapman of the fledgling Audubon Society organized the very first Christmas Bird Count in North America. Twenty-seven birders, scattered across the North American continent, documented a total of 90 species of birds. And so began one of the greatest citizen’s science projects of all time! The Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) has now been running for one hundred and seventeen years.
Wallowa County birders joined the CBC fun in 1977, and this winter marked the thirty-seventh year of Wallowa county CBCs (there was a gap of five years from 2003-2007). The count is always undertaken within a designated 15-mile radius, between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, and the counters are all volunteers. Our local results are sent to the Audubon Society, where they become part of a very large pool of worldwide data describing winter bird distributions and numbers.
Birds move around, and compilation of broader regional results can provide very interesting information about health and diversity of bird populations throughout the area, over time. Thanks to our dedicated local citizen scientists, we now have a large pool of data for NE Oregon. So, what would you like to know about “our” Blue Mountains birds? For example, which do you think is the most abundant mid-winter species in NE Oregon? European Starling? California Quail? Canada Goose? Or Mallard duck?
If you guessed Mallard, you are correct! Mallard ducks are by far the most abundant bird in both Union and Wallowa Counties in December. Out of a total of 642,147 birds counted, 225,449, or 35% of them have been Mallards. If you guessed European Starling, you get the consolation prize. Starlings are the number two species in both Union and Wallowa Counties, making up 15% of all birds. Together, Mallards and Starlings represent 50% of all birds counted in these two counties. California Quail, Canada Goose, House Sparrow, Black-billed Magpie, and Dark-eyed Junco all make the top ten lists in both counties.
Besides keeping track of population numbers of common species, the CBC is also useful for documenting the less common residents. While declining numbers of abundant birds may be cause for concern, declines or disappearance of infrequent species may have a more immediate impact on local biodiversity. For example, out of 153 species documented in the Wallowa County CBC data, 23 of them have been detected only once in thirty-seven years.
This remarkable trove of CBC data holds the key to understanding some of the dynamic nature of our local bird populations. It can help us plan for habitat conservation in order to insure that populations of these beautiful residents and migrants to Wallowa County remain stable in perpetuity.
Now, maybe you’re wondering how you can get involved? Even if you’re new to birding, you can join a bird count team. Together with more expert birders, you can learn the art and science of birding and contribute to this worldwide effort to document local, regional, and global biodiversity!
For more information about the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, click here: