More birds tallied at Christmas

Volunteers tallied more than 2,000 more birds during the most recent Christmas bird count in December in the Tri-cities than in the previous year’s count. - TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO
Volunteers tallied more than 2,000 more birds during the most recent Christmas bird count in December in the Tri-cities than in the previous year’s count.
— image credit: TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

Natural habitat may be on the decline in the Tri-Cities but that did not stop the Burke Mountain Naturalists last month from having the most successful Christmas bird count in years.

Larry Cowan, organizer of the annual event, said volunteers counted more than 10,000 birds this year, up from 8,700 in 2010 and the 6,400 tallied in 2009. The 2011 numbers are the highest since 2004, when bird watchers counted more than 15,000 birds in the Tri-Cities.

He said the numbers are positive but there are factors that could lead to a higher than expected total.

“A lot of it has to do with the weather,” he said. “This year, the weather wasn’t all that bad. We have had years where, because the roads are treacherous, we don’t get into some areas.”

And good numbers in one year may not be enough to determine the overall health of the local bird population.

Cowan said it takes years to see trends in the data and the annual counts provide only a small snapshot of what is going on.

Development is having an impact on the bird population and the volunteer counters are noticing less species diversity, he said, noting this year, 78 species were identified, compared to 81 last year.

“Habitat is slowly dwindling through development,” Cowan said. “The Tri-Cities are already fairly well developed and we are starting to sneak up the mountains.”

The Christmas bird count was launched in the Tri-Cities in the early-1990s, with volunteers from around the region assigned an area where they count all of the birds they can see and identify the species.

All of the data collected is sent to Bird Studies Canada, which shares the information with the National Audubon Society in the United States. Audubon has been collecting the information in some parts of the continent for more than 100 years.

In the 1800s, people engaged in what was known as the Christmas side hunt, where teams would go out and shoot as many birds as possible. But at the turn of the century, conservation groups became increasingly concerned with declining bird populations and it was suggested people count the fowl instead of killing them.

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