Those who enjoy bird watching and the opportunity to experience the great outdoors will have multiple chances to participate in events to help track birds this winter. An annual tradition for many throughout the nation continues with the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. The event is already underway and features several events in the Brazos River basin. Or, you may take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count in early 2018. Scheduled for Feb. 16-19, participants can count birds for as little as 15 minutes or for as long as they want during the four-day period.
While many people enjoy bird watching, why is it important to count birds?
“Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are,” according to the Audubon Society. “Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.”
Scientists use the information gathered to get a better understanding of what is happening to bird populations. The backyard count is held in February “to create a snapshot of the distribution of birds just before spring migrations ramp up in March,” according to the Audubon Society.
This year marks the 118th Christmas bird count, which began Dec. 14 and takes place through Jan. 5. There is no cost to participate, but donations help to fund the annual count.
Counts are scheduled in the Brazoria-Columbia area and Freeport in Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, Bell County, College Station, Crawford, Georgetown, and Palo Pinto County. The Houston Audubon website has information about Christmas bird counts statewide.
One of the locations for the Christmas count is Brazos Bend State Park, which “routinely ranks in the top 5 percent of counts in the nation,” according to the Brazos Bend Christmas Bird Count’s Facebook page. The 2017 count will be held at Brazos Bend on Dec. 16. This will be the 32nd annual count at that location.
“The park and surrounding area has long been a favorite hotspot for birding enthusiasts,” according to the Brazos Bend count’s website. In 2016, more than 130 species were seen at the park during the count, and 150 species were seen at the park in 2015.
The Central Texas Audubon Society will participate in two Christmas bird counts this year, with one count scheduled for Dec. 16 in the western part of the CTAS territory and another planned for Dec. 30 in the eastern portion.
How it works
If you want to participate in a Christmas bird count, visit the Audubon Society’s website (listed at the end of this story) to find a location near you. You will be assigned to a group with at least one experienced birdwatcher. Each of these counts takes place within a specific 15-mile area, organized by a compiler. On the day of the count, each of the birds seen within an area are recorded, with the information being organized by the compiler. The information is then forwarded to scientists who study birds to help them better understand the patterns of different species.
The Backyard Bird Count
The backyard count is a more informal event that offers people a chance to participate either in groups or individually. Also, while the Christmas bird counts are done in specific areas, the backyard count can be done anywhere.
If you don’t already have a spot selected, Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Granbury and Lake Limestone each offer some outstanding bird watching opportunities.
“This count is so fun because anyone can take part — we all learn and watch birds together — whether you are an expert, novice, or feeder watcher,” said Gary Langham, chief scientist for the Audubon Society. “I like to invite new birders to join me and share the experience. Get involved, invite your friends, and see how your favorite spot stacks up."
In 2017, more than 214,000 people participated in the backyard bird count and observed 6,200 species, according to the Audubon Society.
The backyard count, which was started in 1998 “was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time,” the Audubon Society notes. “During the count, you can explore what others are seeing in your area or around the world. Share your photos by entering the photo contest, or enjoy images pouring in from across the globe. You can even add sounds to your checklist.”
More information on the Christmas bird count can be found here. For more on the backyard bird count, go here.