Annual Christmas bird count under way

Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2011, 8:02 pm
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By Anthony Watt,
The National Audubon Society's annual Christmas census of birds across America -- including the Quad-Cities area -- is under way.

The count is meant to measure the health of bird populations, according to the Society. Data on how birds are doing can be used to help establish what challenges they, and the ecosystem they inhabit, are facing.

Locally, the count has helped show the effect of habitat loss on grassland bird species and changes in the migratory habits of some robins, according to Janelle Swanberg, president's of the Society's Quad-Cities chapter. It also has helped shed light on the increase in bald eagle populations and the effect of West Nile Virus on crows and other birds.

"If we tally the number of crows, we can see if they are making a comeback or not," Ms. Swanberg said.

The Christmas Bird Count was started in 1900 by Frank Chapman, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, according to the Audubon website. He hoped it would be an alternative to a kind of hunting game called a "side hunt."

In the side hunt, a group of people would form into competing teams and the team to bring back a larger kill would win, according to the website.

From Mr. Chapman's initial count, the program has spread throughout the United States and has found its way to Canada, Mexico and portions of South America, according to the Society.

A region where a count is taking place is divided up into circles that are 15 miles in diameter. A group counts all of the birds it sees in one circle on a specific day, according to the Society. To participate, there is a $5 fee for most observers older than 18.

Counters who go into the circle to find birds are grouped together, according to the website.

"One of the real benefits of the count for people is that novice birders can go out with experienced birders and really learn a lot," Ms. Swanberg said.

If they do not wish to join a group, participants in a circle can count birds at their feeders but must check in with the organizers for the area ahead of time, the website states. Observers watching feeders do not have to pay the fee.

The count began Dec. 14 and will run through Jan. 5.

Wildlife biologist Kelly McKay, who compiles the data for the Quad-Cities area, said results will not be available until after the count concludes and could not provide any preliminary data on Tuesday.

Walt Zuurdeeg, 52, of Davenport, said he has been participating in the counts for years.

Mr. Zuurdeeg said his count this time has been lower than in previous years, and he said he suspects the weather: The weather is mild, meaning there is more territory in which birds can find food.

Bald eagles eat fish and tend to cluster around open water in the otherwise frozen Mississippi River, he said. This year, there is no ice, freeing the birds from that restriction.

Mr. Zuurdeeg said he enjoys nature, the challenge of identifying birds and keeping records of the birds he sees -- what bird enthusiasts call listing. He starts a new list each year, though listing technique varies based on the preference of the enthusiast.

"Each year I start fresh," he said.

More information about the Christmas Bird Count can be found on the Audubon website at:


Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.

(More History)