Christmas bird counts are fun for kids too

The Christmas Bird Count 4 Kids is a fun, family event aimed at getting kids outside to enjoy some birdwatching and connect with nature. Julie Bauer will lead local youth and leaders in this year’s event in Haines Junction on Dec. 14. Last year’s group (photo) had a great time

Julie Bauer loves birding with kids. The-long-time Haines Junction resident and birder is leading Canada’s most northerly Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for Kids on Dec. 14. The unique event is part of an international citizen science program for monitoring and conserving birds. 

“We get local and visiting kids outside to enjoy nature and watch birds,” Bauer said. “It’s so much fun.” The family event is modelled after the annual Christmas Bird Counts held each year in the Yukon, and throughout the Western Hemisphere. There are 13 official Christmas Bird Counts scheduled in the Yukon from mid-to-late December this year.

The Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), first started in 1900 by a New York ornithologist, invite new and experienced birders to observe and record local winter birds within a specific 24 kilometre-wide “count circle.” (The CBC4 Kids event covers less ground; Bauer’s is starting out in her bird-active backyard.) Each count, which must take place on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, is managed by a local “compiler.” Over time, the data gathered helps track population changes and distribution that assist in bird conservation. All counts are based on volunteer effort and enthusiasm, explained Cameron Eckert, a director of the Yukon Bird Club. The club organizes the Yukon’s counts for the national lead, Bird Studies Canada.

It’s easy to participate. Spend some time recording birds you see at your feeder, or watch for birds in assigned routes and neighbourhoods. And you can take part in any one or all of the counts. “This is something simple and enjoyable that anyone can do and one way to take action in this era of climate crisis,” Eckert said. The Audubon organization recently reported that two thirds of North America’s birds are at risk of extinction.

The pine grosbeak is often seen during the annual Christmas Bird Counts held over the holiday season. Thirteen counts are scheduled throughout the Yukon between Dec. 15 and 29, with the Whitehorse count scheduled for Boxing Day

In Whitehorse, the Christmas Bird Count takes place on Boxing Day. Last year, 25 species were observed by 45 participants with ravens and bohemian waxwings the most numerous species seen. Seasoned compiler Jim Hawkings manages routes within the city’s count circle, centred at the intersection of Two Mile Hill and the Alaska Highway. He helps assign or record birding results covering routes between Fish Lake and Grey Mountain, and McRae to Hidden Valley. (The Millennium Trail in Riverdale, and the ski trails at Mt Mac are popular.)

He’s also coordinating the Marsh Lake community event. It’s home to the territory’s longest running Christmas Bird Count, started in the mid-80s. If you don’t live in one of the official count areas, you can still observe and report your sightings, either on the Yukon Birds Facebook page, or on eBird, the international database for birders, Eckert said. And after a record warm fall, birdwatchers in Whitehorse may see rare or new species for a CBC, Eckert noted. There have been recent sightings of American crows, pretty Eurasian collard doves and, in Riverdale, a purple finch.

Another reason to take part? The counts are also a fun, social time, with cookies and hot chocolate at the kids’ count, or perhaps a post-count pot-luck dinner. Happy birding!

Catch the action in Teslin

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