BIRD

The chipping sparrow topped the list of birds most often spotted in the 2018 Monroe County Christmas Bird Count. The 2019 Count will be Dec. 16 (Photo/Terry Johnson)

If a person dons the hat of a citizen scientist only once a year, chances are it is when he participates in the annual Christmas Bird Count. This survey is the longest-continuous wildlife survey in the entire world. This year our local edition of the count (The Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Count) will be Monday, Dec. 16.

This year the Christmas Bird Count will celebrate its 120th Anniversary. Locally, the 2019-20 count will be held for the 49th time. It is estimated this year more than 75,000 volunteers will take part in upwards of 3,200 counts in the United States, Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands.

This is a far cry from the first count held in 1900. This event was held on Christmas day. On this date, 27 counters tallied 18,500 birds. In comparison, the National Audubon Society estimates that during the 2019-20 count period close to 60 million birds will be recorded.

The Christmas Bird Count is held annually in an effort to monitor the health and distribution of wild bird populations during early winter.

Each count is staged with a well-defined count circle measuring 15 miles in diameter.  Our local survey area blankets much of eastern Monroe and western Jones Counties, as well as a sliver of Jasper County. This vast area encompasses both the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge and Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area.

Each count is surveyed by a cadre of volunteers charged with the responsibility of counting as many birds as possible during a single calendar day. As such, birds can be identified by sound and sight.

This awesome task is accomplished by separating volunteers into teams.  Each team is charged with the responsibility of surveying a distinct slice of the count circle. Within each assigned area, visits are made to as many different habitat types (hardwoods, pine forests, fields, roadsides, swamps and the like) as possible.

In addition, people living within the count circle, that prefer not to join team members ranging about the circle, can serve as feeder watchers. Feeder Watchers can remain at home and count the birds they see in their yards.

At the end of the day, the data collected on each individual count is sent to the National Audubon Society. Here it is analyzed and compared with data collected in previous years.

Over the years, these data have been used by ornithologists in scores of studies. These research projects have revealed both increases and declines in bird populations, range expansions, as well as the impact of climate and land use changes on bird populations.

Last year 21 individuals, including two feeder watchers, took part in the Piedmont NWR/Rum Creek WMA count. The 2018 count team reported seeing 4,069 birds representing 83 different species. 

Topping the list of the 10 species most often seen was the chipping sparrow.  470 chippers were spotted this go round. Second place went to the American Crow. Some 208 of these large black birds were seen.

Here is a list of the birds that finished three through nine: northern cardinal (198), Canada goose (177), eastern towhee (167), common grackle (157), brown-headed nuthatch (137), turkey vulture (131), and American goldfinch (124).  The Carolina chickadee and blue jay tied for tenth place with 129 individuals of each species being reported.

If you would like to participate in the 49th Piedmont NWR/Rum Creek WMA Christmas Bird Count either as a feeder watcher or member of one of the roving teams, please let me know by Dec. 12.

Terry Johnson is retired Program Manager of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He has written the informative column ‘Monroe Outdoors’ for the Reporter for many years. His book, “A Journey to Discovery,” is available at The Reporter. Email him at tjwoodduck@bellsouth.net.