Wildlife Watch: Christmas Day Bird Count carries on

Published: Dec. 22, 2020 at 4:17 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 22, 2020 at 7:35 PM EST
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HUNTINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A holiday tradition over 100 years in the making continues this year around the region. Ike Bendavid has the details on how you can participate in the annual Christmas Day Bird Count.

The Christmas Bird Count has been put on for the last 121 years by the Audobon Society with over 70,000 volunteers participating worldwide last year. “Volunteers go out in designated circles -- which we have a number of them in Vermont -- and count as many birds as they can see. It’s not just species but numbers of individuals that they are looking for,” said Margaret Fowle with Audobon Vermont.

Even during a pandemic, the count is still on and is already underway. “The count started December 14th and goes through the 5th of January. Each circle in the state has its own count day, so Middlebury was last Sunday. I know that we are in the Hinesburg count area and that’s usually the 1st weekend in January,” Fowle said.

She said for many people in our region, the bird count is still coming up. “Anyone really can participate and in normal years the best thing about the count is being able to go out with an expert and learn while you are doing it. But since COVID is preventing us from going out in groups more than your household, we are asking people to just stay within their family groups. But if you want to look outside your window or go in your back yard, and it happens to be in one of the areas, then that’s contributing data to all the information we are looking for,” Fowle said.

And that information is used to help biologists identify population trends among different types of birds. “This gives a sense of long term trends in populations and it’s been really useful in looking at how birds are affected by climate change, how maybe they might be affected by loss of habitat and it’s such a large count, there is so much data. It’s all throughout the western hemisphere. It’s really giving us a lot of information,” Fowle said.

And that information also goes to Vermont Fish & Wildlife. “We do benefit from all the good data that it generates and draw on a lot of those sources,” said the department’s Doug Morin, the bird project leader for the state. He says while many people are indoors, a bird feeder is a great way to participate this year. “It’s an exciting thing, it’s a great way to see birds up close.”

Morin says for responsible bird feeding, keep cats inside, sanitize the bird feeder, and be careful where you put it. “One way to make sure that -- if they are hitting the windows and it’s not too serious -- is keep the feeder really close to the window within, two to four-feet or farther away which is 10 to 15-feet,” he said.

And when it’s springtime, remember to take the bird feeders down. “We do ask that people only keep their feeders up from December 1st until Apri 1, and that’s to prevent issues with bears. Generally, during that time period, most bears are going to be hibernating

Click here for more information on how to participate in the Christmas Bird Count.

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