Whether it’s in the spirit of citizen science or just an excuse to join other nature lovers in their preferred environment, the annual Christmas Bird Count is luring flocks of birders out of their warm homes.
The 114th event organized by the National Audubon Society is expected to exceed last year’s record of 71,454 participants across the continent.
Inland Northwest birders are in the thick of the action to help scientists get a snapshot of winter bird distribution.
Local Audubon chapters have scheduled programs this week to help novice birders identify and understand birds that frequent this region in winter.
They also invite newcomers to join the groups of birders that survey 15-mile diameter circles on designated days.
Record participation was spurred last year after Audubon dropped the $5 fee for joining the field observation groups. Last year, 2,369 counts in all 50 states and all Canadian provinces – plus 103 count circles in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands – tallied more than 64 million birds.
The Spokane count is one of about 36 in Washington. About 30 are scheduled in Idaho, including three organized by the active Coeur d’Alene chapter.
All of those eyeballs scouring the landscape through binoculars turn up something new every year, according to reports filed by group leaders.
Rare finds last year in the Spokane Audubon chapter’s count included a surf scoter identified by Norma Trefry at the Central Pre-mix pond in the Spokane Valley off Broadway, said local compiler Alan McCoy. The group also found three greater white-fronted geese for only the second time in local count history.
Birding groups out for a day compile impressive numbers in seven hours.
Last year, for example, a Coeur d’Alene group combed a circle to find 73 species and 10,223 individual birds.
“In 22 years of this count, this is our highest number of individuals,” said group organizer Shirley Sturts. “Previous record was 10,119 in 2007. We tied with ’03 and ’07 for the most species.”
The highlight of last year’s Coeur d’Alene count, she said, was the high number of hawks, which include eight species and record counts of red-tails, buteos and American kestrels.
Computer compiling of data from group reports across the continent in 2013 helped scientists peg huge southward movements of winter finches, including red crossbills, white-winged crossbills and common redpolls.
Surveys from previous years already have indicated that the goldfinch, Washington’s state bird, may be looking northward for real estate in southern Canada while Oregon’s scrub jays may find Washington more hospitable.
Climate change has nearly 60 percent of the 305 bird species found in North America during winter on the move, said Gary Blevins, Spokane Community College biology professor.
Programs prepare birders
Local Audubon Society chapters have tapped professional biologists to present special pre-Christmas Bird Count programs on identifying and understanding “winter birds:”
• Coeur d’Alene Audubon will feature Carrie Hugo, BLM wildlife biologist, on Tuesday, 7 p.m., at Lutheran Church of the Master, 4800 N. Ramsey Road in Coeur d’Alene.
• Spokane Audubon will feature Gary Blevins, Spokane Falls Community College biology professor, on Wednesday, 7 p.m., at Riverview Community Building, 2117 E. North Crescent Ave. Driving directions: tinyurl.com/SASmeeting.