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Friends Of A Feather. Bird Lovers Gather For 97th Annual Christmas Count

It’s for the birds - literally.

For several hours Saturday, dozens of people in Spokane roamed 15-mile-wide circles, counting everything with wings.

“This is not just entertainment,” said Bob Belous, one of the participants. “We’re also taking a slice of an outgoing spectrum of bird life.”

For 97 years, people from all over the United States, Canada and South America have participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count.

It’s a way to monitor the bird population, said Maurice Vial, a longtime volunteer.

Sponsored by the Audubon Society, the count is also “a barometer of well-being,” Belous said. “It shows how nature is working.”

Waxwings, for example, are abundant in Spokane. If the counters had failed to find one, that would have been a sign that something in nature was wrong.

Fortunately, they found at least 60 this year. They also discovered something extraordinary: a Mandarin duck from Japan.

“This one got blown way off course or it got loose out of someone’s collection,” Belous said. “It just made my day.”

The ornate bird with a sweeping, rust-colored crest was found near the Little Spokane River.

After spotting a bird, volunteers record the name of the species, and where and when it was spotted.

At the end of the outing, the scattered groups came together to compile their data. Those numbers, along with the results of other bird counts throughout the country, are turned over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

The annual count started in 1900 to protest the traditional bird shoot in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds and animals in a day.

“It’s a very exciting way to add something to your holiday season,” Vial said. “It’s a tradition … Birds are beautiful creatures.”

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