Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are urging wildlife enthusiasts to join the tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the United States in the Audubon Society’s 114th Annual Christmas Bird Count, which will take place Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.
The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen-science survey in the world, and the data collected through the count allows researchers, conservation biologists, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.
Local counts will occur on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Volunteers can pick the most convenient circle, or participate in more than one count. It takes place within “count circles,” which focus on specific geographical areas. Each circle is led by a “count compiler,” who is an experienced birdwatcher, enabling beginning birders to learn while they assist.
Those who live within the boundaries of a count circle can even stay at home and report the birds that visit their backyard feeders.
The first step in participation is to locate a count circle that’s seeking participants and contact the local count compiler on Audubon’s website, www.audubon.org, to find out how you can volunteer.
In Pike County, The Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry hosts a count circle that encompasses most of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. To get involved in the count, contact Molly Check at 570-828-2319.
There is no fee to participate in the Christmas bird count.
Dan Brauning, who heads the Game Commission’s wildlife diversity division, said the Christmas Bird Count makes an indispensible contribution to conservation because it monitors bird species that spend winters in Pennsylvania.
“Some of these species are much easier to count or monitor in winter because their breeding ground is so far north in areas where there are few people or roads to give access to habitat,” Brauning said.
The rusty blackbird, for instance, migrates from the boreal taiga forests of Canada and Alaska to the southeastern United States in winter, Brauning said. Pennsylvania is on the northern edge of its winter range, and it sometimes turns up in the Christmas Bird Count, he said. Hawks also are more easily counted in winter, Brauning said.