By RANDY ZELLERS | Arkansas Game & Fish Commission
LITTLE ROCK — Waterfowl hunters aren’t the only people watching the skies during the holiday season. Birdwatching enthusiasts will be catching the winter migration of songbirds, shorebirds and all sorts of avian species during this year’s annual Christmas Bird Count, Dec. 14-Jan. 5, coordinated by the National Audubon Society.
The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running wildlife survey in the world, employing tens of thousands of bird-loving volunteers to gather data on the number and type of bird species found during the peak of migration.
Individual counts take place in a 15-mile-wide circle and are led by a compiler responsible for organizing volunteers and submitting observations to Audubon. Within each circle, participants tally all birds seen or heard that day — not just the species, but total numbers to provide a clear idea of the health of that particular population.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission reminds birdwatchers that Arkansans are seeing many birds across the eastern portion of the state exhibiting signs of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). This fatal viral disease has been observed in many migrating waterfowl, but may also be present in other bird populations throughout the state. Anyone who sees concentrations of dead birds or birds behaving abnormally is encouraged to report the sighting to the AGFC through the reporting tool on the front page of its website, www.agfc.com. While the risk for humans contracting HPAI is extremely low, dead or sick birds should be left where they are found and not handled in any way. Visit www.agfc.com/avianflu for more information about this disease.
Data from Christmas Bird Counts have been used in more than 200 peer-reviewed, scientific articles, including Audubon’s landmark, “Birds and Climate Change Report.”
There is no fee to participate, and the quarterly report, “American Birds,” which posts results of the count, is available online. Counts are open to birders of all skill levels, and Audubon’s free Bird Guide app makes it even easier to chip in. For more information and to find a count near you, visit www.christmasbirdcount.org.