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Christmas Bird Count Underway

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Northern Mockingbird.

“Calling All Citizen Scientists!” That’s what the Red Rock Audubon Society website says.

We're in the midst of the annual Christmas Bird Count.

The Red Rock Audubon Society's Doug Chang talks with KNPR.


Interview Excerpts (Condensed and Edited)

(KNPR's Carrie Kaufman) The Christmas bird count has been around for a long time.  It started in 1900, and it was proposed by an ornithologist named Frank Chapman. Why count birds?

(Doug Chang) The reason we count birds is that it’s really the only way we can determine, over time, what has happened to species. Particularly now, we can correlate the data with long term climate change. We are starting to find out patterns of birds in terms of what will help them thrive and what is getting in the way of their surviving.

So the counting goes on all over the world?

It goes on all over the world, which is kind of nice now because it’s hard to be able to count birds at both their winter residence and their summer residence and along their whole flyway path.

Let’s talk about logistics. I’ve read on the website that there are bird counting circles. How does this work?

The methodology that we’ve developed – and when we talk about science, it’s important to have a fixed methodology – we have for better or for worse decided that a circle is a twenty-five mile radius centered over a particular area we have chosen. And there are certain routes that have been selected because we have seen certain species over time on these routes. It’s important that we continue to follow the same routes with the same number of hours on the route so that we can normalize the data. In one year, for example, if we only had six people doing the count and another year we have twenty, the data can be normalized to be compared from year to year to year. It won’t necessarily be dependent on the number of people counting that particular year.

This is called the Christmas Bird Count. But there is still counting to be done. And you’re having two events. One is on Sunday, January First at Muddy River. And the Red Rock Conservatory area on Monday January Second.  I have no knowledge of counting birds. Can I join this and count birds?

Absolutely. You would be paired up with a group of people on a particular route. And if you cannot recognize a particular bird – if you are with me, I will say: I see 100 Northern Shovelers, and you write that down on your clipboard. The next stop we might see 200. At the end of the day we compile the data from all the people who are out there.

What if you hear a bird but you don’t see it? Do you still count it?

Yes. We will just want to make sure. That’s why we will pair you up with birders that are experts. 

Doug Chang, President, Red Rock Audubon Society

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.