To The Birds: Annual Event Remains Feathered Feature

WARREN, Pa. — Around four dozen residents from around the area participated in this season’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in Warren, Pa., said Don Watts, bird count coordinator. He and Mike Toole, who compiles each year’s data as well as participating in the count, would like to see more.

The Christmas Bird Count originated on Christmas Day in 1900, when early officer in the Audubon Society Frank Chapman saw fit to turn the traditional Christmas “side hunt” into a conservation effort instead.

The Christmas side hunt was an annual event during which hunters compete — heading into the field to basically see who could shoot the most animals, feathered or furred.

“Conservation was in its infancy then,” said Toole, but birders and scientists alike were already becoming alarmed by declining populations of many bird species nationally.

On the first Christmas Bird Count, Chapman was able to get 27 birders to hold 25 counts ranging from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to Pacific Grove, California. The combined counts tallied around 90 species, according to the Audubon’s website.

Warren has been participating in the now global Christmas Bird Count for 74 years, Toole said.

The official dates for the event run from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 each year, but Watts said that Warren’s event is always the first Saturday within those dates. Jamestown also participates in the count and Watts said that count is always held on the first Sunday within the count dates.

And the Christmas Bird Count data is not just fun and games, said Toole.

“It’s citizen science,” said Watts.

Even the breakdown of the area into zones with zone leaders is one of the serious efforts of birders participating to ensure consistency, which is a cornerstone of the scientific method.

Data from Christmas Bird Counts has been used in legitimate research. From Audubon’s 2014 Climate Change Report to bird count data being cited as one of 26 indicators of climate change in its 2012 report, CBC data represents a fertile pool of information for researchers.