Birds: Counting because it matters

Bald eagle. Photo courtesy Daryl Saffe

By Keith Bruno
Special to The SUN
Dec. 14, 2019, signaled the initiation of another early winter storm. Thankfully, there was enough of a lull as the storm gathered energy to allow 60 participants from Pagosa Springs to get out around the county in the short daylight hours and log birds.
For the last nine years, area residents have made a point of strategically navigating eight different zones in our 15-mile diameter circle to provide a representation of our winter bird species, effectively contributing to our nation’s longest running community science effort and this year’s 120th Christmas Bird Count.

Christmas Bird Count birders. Photo courtesy Kristine Rubish

Our preliminary findings from this year show that, while we logged 62 bird species (same as last year), overall bird numbers are lower than the past two years. This year, we logged 3,110 total birds. Compare that to 3,466 birds in 2018 and 5,314 birds in 2017, and one can see that we are in a declining pattern for numbers, at least for a short-term comparison. However, there are a few important factors to consider.
First, we had very little open water for this year’s count due to a few weeks of sustained cold temperatures and many water bodies had iced over, meaning that several hundred waterfowl had already “flown the coop” southbound. This year was our first without a single Canada goose.
Second, a storm was moving in and many folks noted that birds appeared to selectively forage when weather was more favorable, often seeking refuge from inclement weather throughout the day. Third, for obvious reasons, it was a difficult day for visibility.
The National Audubon Society (NAS) recorded more than 80,000 volunteer participants in last year’s count. That is an important statistic and represents an increasing interest in the health of bird populations. After all, the substantial and shocking (to many) NAS report, “Survival by Degrees: 389 Species on the Brink,” was compiled namely with Christmas Bird Count data and definitively illustrates the fact that we urgently need to turn our attention toward healing bird populations.

Juvenile bald eagle. Photo courtesy Byron Greco

To do so, it means healing the habitat and connectivity that they need to move through the landscape.
So, this year when spring rolls around, consider planting native berry bushes and shrubs, establishing food sources and protection for birds and other pollinators as they navigate a busier world. By doing so, you will make their journey a little easier.
The Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies are grateful for the increasing amount of interest we find each year in folks willing to set time aside to inventory our avian population, knowing full well that the weather can be fickle in mid-December in the southern Rockies. So, thank you to all of the participants of this year’s Christmas Bird Count. We could not have done it without you.

Male gadwall. Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

Great blue heron. Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

Black-capped chickadee. Photo courtesy Kristine Rubish

Photo courtesy Barry Knott
American kestrel.

Mallards. Photo courtesy Kristine Rubish

Mallards. Photo courtesy Kristine Rubish

This story was posted on January 6, 2020.