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The 122nd annual Christmas Bird Count, coordinated by the Audubon Society, is being held between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. This year, an estimated 80,000 volunteers will participate across the United States and in up to 20 countries in the western hemisphere.
The counts are conducted in specific circles, 15 miles in radius, where volunteers count every bird sighted or heard within the circle during a 24-hour period. Iowa has 39 of these circles, primarily along the border rivers and in the larger cities, and each circle usually has a minimum of 10 volunteers and a count coordinator who helps to organize the volunteers, collects the data, tabulates the counts and submits it to the Audubon Society. Existing survey circles and contacts for volunteers, are available online at https://audubon.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=ac275eeb01434cedb1c5dcd0fd3fc7b4. Anyone can add a count circle to an area that doesn’t have one as long as they meet the criteria and secure the volunteers.
Anna Buckardt Thomas, avian biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, has volunteered for counts in Dallas County and in Ames. She said most circles are open to volunteer birders of all abilities, all they need is warm clothes and a spotting scope or pair of binoculars. Information on the Iowa counts is available online at https://iowabirds.org/Connections/CBC.aspx.
“Volunteers need to be prepared for the weather because if it’s raining on your count day, you still need to go out,” she said. “If someone is interested in volunteering but is a novice birder, they will be paired with more experienced birders as they learn. If they want to volunteer, live within a count circle and have birds or a bird feeder but can’t help for the entire time period, they can count the birds at the feeder and report the counts and time spent counting to the local count compiler.”
The data goes to a national database managed by the Audubon Society that provides a long-term view of the history and trends in bird populations and movements. It is used to periodically update population trends by area or subset and is made available to the public on Audubon’s website www.audubon.org. Count data is also used to produce long term trend reports like The State of the Birds 2019 at https://www.stateofthebirds.org/2019/
The Audubon Society also collects information on the number of hours spent and miles driven and walked to calculate the effort to collect the data.
Volunteers interested in contributing bird data but who can’t help with the Christmas counts have another opportunity in February as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count, an international effort to count birds that is focused on urban and suburban habitat. The Christmas bird count includes all habitat within the circles.