News & Features

eBirding your Pennsylvania Christmas Bird Count

Short-eared Owl with prey by Jake Dingel

Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season is upon us again! Pennsylvania is a very important contributor to the CBC effort with many Audubon Chapters and bird clubs organizing a local CBC circle’s count. This is a great time to join others and cooperate in a massive effort across the Western Hemisphere to take a snapshot of bird occurrence around the holidays. For three weeks each year (14 December to 5 January) tens of thousands of birders head out to conduct the Audubon CBC. These counts are cooperative efforts to get the best count of birds in a single 15-mile diameter circle. They depend upon the efforts of multiple parties of observers each checking different parts of the count circle. Compilers add the efforts of the various teams together and assemble a final count total, which can be compared to totals for the past 117 years to understand changes in bird populations. eBird collects data at a finer scale and from single parties of birders, and eBird Mobile makes it easy to keep your tallies through the day. We invite each group to submit their single-party lists to eBird. For guidance on best practices for submitting your CBC to eBird, see these links:

The Pennsylvania Game Commission recommends that bird observers participate in the Christmas Bird Count. A webinar presentation was given by Doug Gross to explain the Christmas Bird Count. In case you are not already involved with the annual Christmas Bird Count, please contact your local Audubon Chapter or bird club to learn how to participate. The Christmas Bird Counts are done in designated count circles with each circle having a coordinator. Mostly likely you will need to make contact with the circle coordinator in order to participate. Beginners are often paired with experienced counters so they can learn about bird identification and counting protocol as they go. Often the local count is announced in the newspaper or on-line on the local organization’s website or social media page. And, you can find information about the annual event at the National Audubon’s information-packed Christmas Bird Count website: http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count

This female Rusty is beginning to show the grayish coloration of her summer plumage. Hamden, CT, 6 February.

This female Rusty is beginning to show the grayish coloration of her summer plumage. Hamden, CT, 6 February.

All bird species deserve counting during a CBC, but there has been a long tradition of gathering data for special concern species that are often highlights of a survey like this one. For example, the recovery of the Bald Eagle has been beautifully documented by CBC data over the decades. Actually, it is much easier to find a Bald Eagle in winter when the trees are leafless than in the summer when leaves cover nests and hide birds, even large ones like eagles. Pennsylvania has its own Species of Greatest Conservation Need as well as an Endangered and Threatened bird species list.

Red-breasted Nuthatch by Jake Dingel

Red-breasted Nuthatch by Jake Dingel

In winter, it can be very rewarding to find wintering grounds of Short-eared Owls, a PA-Endangered species, and Northern Harrier, a PA-Threatened species, which often forage over open fields. Some Sandhill Cranes that are monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may stay at locations in the state. Rusty Blackbirds also can be found in wet areas, especially in the southern counties and extensive wetlands and riparian areas elsewhere. Any of these species can be a feature of a CBC field day in Pennsylvania and the CBC data could directly inform conservation organizations and agencies on those species. Converting CBC data to eBird helps to share the information about the species for which we are most concerned.

Adult Bald Eagle by Jake Dingel

Adult Bald Eagle by Jake Dingel

The easiest way to view the Game Commission’s CBC presentation by watching the recording which has been uploaded to the agency’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lC0vxBeOfU0&index=10&list=PLdqHbfhW8Hu2Nw–pwpxCFKG1KVOcsnj4

Have a Great Christmas Bird Count!

Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology eBird Team and Doug Gross, PA eBird

Snow Bunting by Jake Dingel

Snow Bunting by Jake Dingel