If you think the holiday season is for the birds, you wouldn’t be alone.
Now in its 118th year, the count began in response to a tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” Friends and families gathered for Christmas would hold a hunting contest — whoever could amass the biggest pile of birds (and other animals) won. The Christmas Bird Count became a conservation-minded alternative that is now held in thousands of locations nationwide during a window of time around Christmas.
“Basically it’s a fun thing,” said Keith Carlson, a Lewiston birder and long-time count participant. The goal, he said, is to count all the birds that you can during a 24 hour period. Results are compiled by area coordinators and sent to the National Audubon Society.
“It’s a non-scientific poll,” he said. “But over a period of time, you get valuable information on trends.”
For example, the annual count has detailed the arrival of new bird species. Six years ago the non-native Eurasian Collared Dove wasn’t in Moscow said Kas Dumroese, count coordinator for the Moscow-Pullman area. Now, counters see several hundred of them. The same is true for the Bewick’s Wren and the Lesser Goldfinch, two birds that found Palouse winters too inhospitable until recent years.
The weekend’s weather can influence how productive or enjoyable a count might be, Dumrose said, and elevation and many other environmental factors affect the types of birds that counters will see. But for many, it’s not about numbers — the hope is to see something new or novel during the count.
“For a lot of birders, that’s why they do it,” Dumroese said. “There’s always the hope that something really weird will fly in.”
The count is also an opportunity for novice bird watchers to learn from those who are more experienced. Bird books and apps have their value, said Bryan Jamison, count coordinator for Lewiston-Clarkston, but they’re not able to point out distinguishing features or minor variations among species.
“The most valuable thing is to hook up with someone who can teach you,” Jamison said. “The learning involved with all of that is priceless.”
Those who would prefer to stay at home can count at their backyard feeder, though there is generally less variety and counting the total number of birds in a yard — versus visits to a feeder by the same bird — can be challenging.
Last year the Moscow-Pullman count identified 70 species, and the Lewiston-Clarkston count often comes in around 85 species.
“We usually do quite well here because our climate is quite benign most years and we’ve got the two rivers,” Carlson said.
Participants of all levels of ability and interest are asked to contact the count coordinator prior to the count day to better coordinate efforts.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Christmas Bird Count
WHEN & WHERE:
Saturday in the Moscow-Pullman area
Idaho field counters will meet at 6:30 a.m. at the Palouse Mall, 1850 Pullman Road, Moscow
Washington field counters will meet at 7 a.m. at Daily Grind, 230 E. Main St., Pullman
Idaho side count coordinator: Kas Dumroese at email@example.com
Washington side count coordinators: Marie Dymkoski at firstname.lastname@example.org and Kelly Cassidy at email@example.com
Sunday in the Lewiston-Clarkston area
Field counters will meet at 6:30 a.m. at Rosauers, 332 Thain Road, Lewiston
Lewiston-Clarkston count coordinator: Bryan Jamison at firstname.lastname@example.org
TWO WAYS TO PARTICIPATE:
To join in the field count, register with your area coordinator. A coordinator will try to accommodate preferences regarding length of time in the field and physical exertion required, as well as pair novice birders with those who are more experienced. Field counters will often be out for anywhere from three to eight hours.
To join in the backyard feeder count, register with your area coordinator for instructions and tips. Simply watch your backyard feeder for a period of time and record your best estimate of the number of birds that visit your yard. You can minimize counting one bird multiple times by reporting the maximum number of each species you see at one time. Most feeder watchers count over a two- to three-hour period.