A version of this article was originally published in the Pagosa Springs SUN.
December 14, 2019, signaled the start of another early winter storm. Thankfully, there was enough of a lull as the storm gathered energy to allow 60 participants from Pagosa Springs to get around the county in the short daylight hours to survey birds.
For the last nine years, residents of the area have made a point of strategically navigating our 177 square mile survey area to provide a representation of our winter bird species. In doing so, we’re contributing to the world’s longest running community science effort, the 3.
Our preliminary findings from this year show that while we found the same number of species as last year (62), the number of individual birds was lower than the past two years. This year we logged 3,110 birds. Compare that to 3,466 birds in 2018 and 5,314 birds in 2017 and one can see that the number of birds is declining, at least in the recent past.
However, there are a few important factors to consider. First, we had very little open water for this year’s count due to a few weeks of sustained cold temperatures and many water bodies had iced over. This meant that several hundred waterfowl had already “flown the coop” southbound. This year was our first without a single Canada Goose!
Second, a storm was moving in and many folks noted that birds appeared to selectively forage when the weather was more favorable, often seeking refuge from inclement weather throughout the day. Third, for obvious reasons, it was a difficult day for visibility.
The National Audubon Society recorded more than 80,000 volunteer participants in last year’s count. That is an important statistic and represents an increasing interest in the health of bird populations. After all, the substantial and shocking Audubon report, Survival by Degrees: 389 Species on the Brink, was created largely with Christmas Bird Count data and definitively illustrates the fact that we urgently need to turn our attention towards healing bird populations.
To do so, we must reconnect the habitats that birds need to move through the landscape. So this year when spring rolls around, consider planting native berry bushes and shrubs, which create food sources and protection for birds (and pollinators) as they navigate an increasingly crowded world. By doing so, you will make their journey a little easier.
Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies are grateful for the increasing interest that we find each year in folks willing to set time aside to inventory our bird population, knowing full well that the weather can be fickle in mid-December in the southern Rockies. So thank you, to all of the participants of this year’s Christmas Bird Count. We could not have done it without you!