Preparing for a Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count or CBC season (December 15-January 5) is upon us.  This year marks the 109th year of this winter bird census.  The Christmas Bird Count began as an alternative to the Christmas “Side Hunts” where teams of shooters would compete to bring back the most feathers and fur.  The CBC is conservation in action as Citizen Science participants collect data on bird distribution and populations in 15 mile “count circles”.

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing

Preparing for a CBC requires a thorough knowledge of habitat and microclimates within your count area.  Some birds, like Tufted Titmice, are predictable while others, like the nomadic Cedar Waxwings, migrate locally between winter fruit sources.  Uncommon species like Eastern Phoebe and Belted Kingfisher must be sought out in iceless areas along streams where minnows and aquatic insects (see previous post) are available throughout the winter.  The weather is a great influence with driving rain and high winds sending birds (and birders!) into hiding while heavy snow often packs bird feeders with a variety of species.  Birds’ well-known songs are of little help and it is the subtle “chip” notes that reveal skulking species.

Pine Warbler and Downy Woodpecker on suet
Pine Warbler and Downy Woodpecker on suet

So with scouting in mind, I took a walk around the nature center to see what I could find.  I didn’t need to look far before I found a Pine Warbler, Downy Woodpecker, and Brown Creeper all taking turns at a suet block.  Pine Siskins “zrrreeeed!” overhead in the canopy of a black cherry and Cedar Waxwings and American Robins joined a lone Hermit Thrush on the crabapple.  Two Red-tailed Hawks wheeled overhead amongst a few Turkey Vultures.

Abbott's Pond iced over
Abbott's Pond iced over

A layer of ice on Abbott’s Pond has deterred the waterfowl, but two Swamp Sparrows, chipping in the cattails, didn’t seem bothered.  The weedy, seedy Morton Farm field erupted in sparrows that took to the nearest hedgerow.  Composed of Song, White-throated, and Field Sparrows, a single Savannah Sparrow was also present.  We’ll be keeping our eyes out here during the count for Chipping and American Tree Sparrows as well as wintering American Kestrels.

Morton Farm field - 1 year fallow
Morton Farm field - 1 year fallow

I encourage you to visit Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count website:

http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/history.html

You can explore the results from your local area or better still, find out how you can participate!  It’s a great tradition and will provide memories to last a lifetime.

Anyone interested in assisting with the Abbott’s Mill Nature Center/Milford Millponds Nature Preserve Count can contact Jason Beale at (302) 593-0486.

Hope to see you in the field!

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