The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Christmas begins with Bird Counts
Ro Wauer, December 14, 2003, The Victoria Advocate, © 2003

For almost 56,000 nature lovers, scattered all across North America, the Christmas Season truly begins with Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs). These counts begin just before Christmas when groups of birders spend a 24-hour period tallying all the birds they can locate within a 15-mile diameter circle. The information obtained, including both bird species and the number of individuals, is later submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the official keeper of the data that has become the most extensive database for winter bird populations anywhere in the world.

Last year, participants tallied 49,456,347 birds of 660 species on 1,585 counts in the United States. Eighty of the U.S. counts produced 150 species or more. Nineteen of those high counts were conducted in Texas, including five of the top ten: Mad Island Marsh with 243 species, Freeport with 231, Corpus Christie with 223, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) with 199, and Bolivar Peninsula with 187 species. Other Texas CBCs with 150 or more species included Port Aransas (175), Attwater Prairie-Chicken NWR (171), Galveston (170), Houston (170), Rockport (165), Choke Canyon (163), Corpus Christie Flour Bluff (159), Kingsville (159), Sea Rim (158), Santa Ana NWR (157), Laguna Atascosa NWR (1560, Aransas NWR (155), Harlingen (152), and Austin (150). Victoria counters (22 participants) missed the 150 threshold with 135 species and 31,598 individuals. A grand total of 55,994 volunteers participated in the 2002-03 CBCs; 98 counts were undertaken in Texas.

The 2003-04 CBC period begins on December 14 and lasts through January 5. Local counts start with the Mad Island March Count on December 15, Victoria on December 20, and Aransas NWR on December 29. Count coordinators welcome participants, whether experienced birders or not. Anyone wishing to participate in any of these counts should contact the count coordinator: Brent Ortego (576-0022) for Mad Island Marsh, Bill Farnsworth (578-9745) for Victoria, and Barbara Bruns (575-5505) for Aransas. Feeder counters, those individuals that count only the birds that visit their feeders on count day, are also welcome.

For more information on CBCs, including individual counts, bird species, and how the data is used to better understand bird numbers and distribution, go to the Internet. I found tons of data at google.com by simple listing "Christmas Bird Counts." Although the resultant information obtained on CBCs during the last 100-plus years since the program was first established is important and is part of the reasons to help count birds, for many of the volunteers the CBCs are much more.

For many of us the CBCs are as much a part of the holiday as trees and presents. They offer an additional excuse to be outdoors, enjoying nature and our natural heritage. They are a significant part of Christmas.

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