WORDS ON BIRDS
Area Christmas Bird Counts Are Happening
by Steve Grinley
you look out at your bird feeders on the Saturday morning before
Christmas, you may see some warmly dressed folks out in the street
also staring at your feeders with binoculars. No, it's not the
feeder police. It is likely a team of birders on the annual
Christmas Bird Count.
This is the
118th year of the Christmas Bird Count sponsored by the National
Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The
Newburyport Count takes place on December 23, encompassing an area
within a 15-mile radius of the city. Teams of counters, each
assigned their own section of the circle, will be tallying all the
species of birds seen, and counting the number of individuals of
each species. This is the time when every starling, chickadee and
mallard is counted.
birders and individuals count birds throughout the United States,
Canada and Mexico. The results of the Christmas Bird Count is the
longest running database in ornithology, representing over a century
of data, and reveals trends of winter bird populations. More than
50,000 observers participate in this all day census. The first count
was held on Christmas Day back in 1900 and was conducted in 27
different communities, including three in Massachusetts. Today,
thirty-four Count circles participate in Massachusetts alone.
At the end of the Count day, all of the
teams covering all of the surrounding towns gather to add up their
numbers. Those totals are then entered into a grand data base which
includes all of the previous years' totals. In this way, trends in
bird populations can be identified.
Tomorrow, Sunday, is the Cape Ann Christmas Bird Count. I usually
help out in the Hamilton and Wenham sector. Those who have the
coastal sectors have a chance to see king eiders, harlequin ducks,
puffins or a rare gull. We, however, will spend time counting
chickadees, tufted titmice and downy woodpeckers in our land-locked
sector. In past years, we have seen pileated woodpeckers, pine
grosbeaks, and a late yellow-bellied sapsucker; and we usually see
some bluebirds as well. So there is no telling what we might
encounter. It is fun just to be out, and the weather is supposed to
cooperate this weekend!
wintering population of bald eagles has yet to arrive, our
established resident eagles should make the count. We did see eagles
migrating over Salisbury last Sunday including one late golden
Snowy owls have already
appeared all over Essex County including Salisbury, Crane Beach in
Ipswich, Thatcher’s Island off Cape Ann and several on Plum Island.
Short-eared owls have been seen on Plum Island, Salisbury Beach and
at Nelson’s island in Rowley. We haven’t seen “our” barred owl in
the backyard lately, but we can expect some owls to make an
appearance for the counts!
should prove to be an interesting count year. Up until a week or two
ago, the milder than normal weather had kept many fresh water lakes
and ponds open, and duck numbers could be strong. The recent snow
and cold has driven more birds back to the feeders. We had a
Carolina wren at our heated bird bath and on our suet this week. We
keep watch for something more rare, hoping something will show up
for count week that includes three days before and three days after
There has been a rare
yellow-throated warbler at the Seabrook Waste water Treatment Plant
on the Salisbury town line for the past couple of weeks. One showed
up at a suet feeder in Amesbury a couple of years back, so this one
could end up at somebody’s feeder soon. If you see something rare at
your feeders, please contact the store and we will see that it is
included in the count.
There is also
much natural seed available with good cone crops, but only scattered
reports of red crossbills and pine siskins so far this winter. There
are also good crops of winterberry, privet, cedar berries,
bittersweet and other wintering fruit so higher counts of
fruit-eating birds could be expected for the counts. These include
robins, bluebirds, mockingbirds, hermit thrushes and cedar waxwings,
with the hope for Townsend’s solitaire, pine grosbeak, or Bohemian
So please don’t be
surprised to see people with binoculars walking around your
neighborhood on Count day, gawking at your fruit trees or bird
feeders. They are just trying to count every chickadee, goldfinch,
cardinal and house sparrow in the neighborhood, while hoping to
discover something more rare!
Bird Watcher's Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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