Birders throughout the Western Hemisphere are gearing up for the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count. And you can, too.
The one-day census, carried out on at least three continents, takes place in 12 different Yukon locations, on different days, over the next two weeks. The Whitehorse count is held on Boxing Day.
“It’s a great chance to get out in winter and discover something new about your neighbourhood … or somebody else’s, “says the Yukon count co-ordinator, Jim Hawkings, a biologist with Environment Canada.
And you don’t even need to leave home; “feeder observers” are wanted, too.
Started in 1900 by the National Audubon Society, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is one of the longest-running wildlife surveys in the world. It’s been an important tool to help flag trends and changes in bird populations, such as the effects of climate change, over the last century.
It’s now run in Canada by Bird Studies Canada, a national non-profit organization with support from the Yukon Bird Club for our community counts (there is one in Skagway as well).
Each CBC involves volunteers recording as many birds as possible – species and number – within a prescribed “count circle” of about 24 kilometres in radius. The Whitehorse count circle covers most of the city and its subdivisions: south to McCrae, north to McPherson, and west, almost to Fish Lake.
It’s designed to capture a variety of habitats such as open water, forests and open woodlands. And lots of backyard feeders.
Last year, 40 people took part in the Whitehorse count, recording over 2,700 birds and 22 species. It was the third largest number of birds seen, but the fourth smallest number of species in the last 10 years.
In the Yukon, cold weather counts will see a smaller number of birds and species, with common ravens, chickadees and magpies topping the list. But often there is a variety of our feathered friends out there: eagles, woodpeckers, nuthatches, sparrows and even pigeons. And there are seasonal surprises, too, such as robins, which have shown up in several recent counts.
When young ornithologist Frank Chapman began the event 11 decades ago in New York City, he wanted to find an alternative to the Victorian-era “side-hunt” or blastarama, which saw thousands of birds and other creatures killed for holiday sport.
Last year, the event attracted birders in more than 2,500 locations, from Alaska to Antarctica, and throughout North and South America, Hawaii, Latin America and the Caribbean. Over 16.5-million birds were recorded. Central Park, in New York, remains one of the original counting circles that attracts flocks of birders each December.
The Yukon Bird Club helps support the count by paying the $5 fee normally charged each participant (except feeder observers and those under 18). The funds help produce the census reports and maintain an ongoing database.
It’s a good chance for novice birders to spend some time with local experts; everybody can learn and enjoy their experience. Some observers head out at the crack of dawn (around 9:30 a.m. in the North), but any time put into the event is fine.
“People can stay or go as long as they want to … the sky is the limit,” says Hawkings.
Observers are asked to register in advance with their local co-ordinator (see box for contacts) to ensure there are no overlapping areas and to report the results.
And if you take part in Whitehorse, there is often an après-birding event that is worth catching, too.
Want to learn more? Contact Jim Hawkings or visit the Bird Studies Canada site (www.bsc-eoc.org) or the National Audubon Society website (www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/index.html)