Local Youth and the 2017 National Audubon Christmas Bird Counts

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Nearly every winter since 1900 bird-watchers across the continent have braved cold and wet weather to count birds for a day. This year’s 118th Christmas Bird count took place during the period December 14, 2017 and January 5, 2018. Data from this census will allow scientists to assess the health and diversity of bird populations. Find out more about the history of this bird census at http://www.audubon.org/conservation/history-christmas-bird-count.

In central Ohio, we have a number of well-attended Christmas Bird Counts, not only adults but many young students contribute to the effort. Our youth should be applauded for the time, effort, and fun they had doing not one but in some cases three Christmas Bird Counts. While most are birders of age 12 through 16 from our Central Ohio Young Birders Club chapter (http://www.ohioyoungbirders.org/central-ohio.html), one was a high school senior who has been birding for only one year and another a junior at Ohio Wesleyan University who has been birding with Dr. Jed Burtt since he was in 5th grade. I asked each of these students to write about their experience and why they thought this was something important to do over their Christmas break especially this year, when temperatures had dropped into the single digits!!  I for one say thank you to them and hope they will give you a little incentive to come out with them next year.  If you see them out in the field, applaud them. They have found some great uses for their cell phones from eBirding (http://ebird.org) to sharing their latest sighting with their birding friends. As one 14-year-old eBirder, Adriana, said, ‘I like to finish my year, Dec. 31, and start my year, Jan 1, birdwatching and having fun with my friends and doing citizen science’.


By Darlene Sillick, OYBC co-advisor with Maura Rawn



Ohio Young Birder, high school junior – Anna Rose

It was a frigid morning and it could not have been more than five degrees outside when I began my Christmas Bird Count. A small group and I were assigned an off-trail area in the wetlands of Glacier Ridge Metro Park. We saw a Northern Harrier and few species of native sparrows, but besides that, the walk was grueling and nearly devoid of birds. Despite the rough conditions, I enjoyed seeing friends and the Glacier Ridge naturalists Chrissy Hoff and Sarah Hunter from the CBCs of previous years. The CBCs are a great way to meet other birders in the community. They are not always fun out in the elements, but they are extremely important to our understanding of the movements of birds during the winter months. The data collected by years and years of CBCs allows us to see the status and health of bird populations across the continent. I count the birds, because I know that as part of the CBC I am helping provide data that can be used to make a difference in the future of birds.





Ohio Young Birder, high school freshman – Katelyn Shelton

Ah, the Christmas Bird Count. One of America’s largest citizen science projects, it seems. Held every year near the holidays, the CBC might seems like a waste of time in an otherwise busy season. Why do we do it?

My name is Katelyn, and I’ve only been a part of two CBC’s. So far, I’ve been able to recognize the importance (and fun) that this special bird count brings us. It helps ornithologists keep track of wintering species across the U.S, seeing if the numbers shift in number and location. We can further delve into big questions for our feathered friends. Not so many Red-breasted nuthatches here as last year? Maybe it’s due to weather? Development? What has changed here that could’ve made it less hospitable for these birds?

Plus, birders take pleasure in going out onto local trails to count and test their skills as bird watchers. It being an across-the-country census, birders enjoy a bit of friendly competition within states. Who got the one bird that no one else got? The most numbers? But at times, we just do it to have a well needed walk through the woods with friends and family, admiring the wondrous birds all around us.



Ohio Young Birder, high school freshman – Adriana Losey

It’s been a tradition for me to go on a CBC the last day and first day of the years for a couple years now and I wasn’t going to let the cold temperatures stop me. Luckily, the group I was in, stayed in the car for most of them. Despite being in the car, we still had very good birds. Rough-legged Hawk, Sandhill Cranes, and 100s of Horned Larks to name a few. I had a great time hanging out with my fellow birding friends and I am looking forward to doing it again.

Adriana took part in the Delaware Reservoir, O’Shaughnessy and Kingston CBCs this year.






Our newest Ohio Young Birder, 12-year-old – Case Thomas

On December 17th, 2017, I went on my first Christmas Bird Count in Jackson County, Ohio, the 2017 Beaver Valley Christmas Bird Count. There were two main reasons that I went on this count. One of them was that I wanted to meet other birders, which I did. But the most important thing about going on these bird counts for me isn’t meeting these people. I had to be in some very cold weather, but it didn’t matter to me because I wanted to see lots of birds, and I did. I saw a lot of European Starlings, which isn’t surprising. I saw several Blue Jays and Bluebirds. For a while my team went to different lakes, but saw no birds at all. Fortunately, we saw several Canada Geese and one Mallard Duck at the end of the day. Some of my favorite birds that day that I had never seen before included Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Rock Pigeons, Black Vultures, American Kestrels, and one Brown Creeper. We saw Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, as well as a Pileated Woodpecker, which I had never seen before. This bird count was the first time that I got to test my new CELESTRON binoculars, which were perfect for seeing birds from far away. An interesting fact that I learned on this bird count was that Brown Creepers walk up trees, but they fly down the stem instead of walking down. When I mentioned that I had two main reasons for going on this bird count I mentioned one, but not the other. The second and most important reason to me isn’t meeting birders; it’s seeing the birds. Some amazing birders out there can probably name all the birds of North America without looking in guidebooks. Why I go is, because I get to see birds I don’t often see. I get to see birders two or more times every month at the Scioto Valley Bird and Nature Club and the Shawnee Nature Club.  I get to see new birds much less often. I think that seeing new birds with new looks and calls is fun. That is why I go on bird counts, and I am excited about the next time I go birding. All you really have to do to be birding is see a bird. Who cares if you don’t know what type it is. It still is fun and having fun birding is the best part of it, I think.


Ohio Young Birder – Cassandra Thomas

In 2017, I attended two Christmas Bird Counts. On New Year’s Eve, I was sent to bed before the ball dropped, though I may not have gone to sleep. The reason was that I was going birding the next day. Somehow, the three of us, I, Mom, and Case were all on the same team.  Mom was the driver, I compiled and Case was responsible for our route. I enjoyed spending time with my family.

While on a bird count, I frequently find that the area I am in is unfamiliar to me. This provides an opportunity to enjoy different landscapes, in this case, the Ross County terrain. It’s kind of cool to be out in the really, cold weather and just be the only people awake, out and about. You are the adventurer who was crazy enough to go out in the five to twelve degree weather and find those birds. That day I learned that my Celestron binoculars were waterproof, when I dropped them in the snow. It’s always fun to see the birds in a different way, because there is a difference between seeing the birds behind your binoculars and on the page of Sibley.

Next year I will be excited about seeing new birds and spending time with other birders. It’s important to contribute to the scientific endeavors of this country. One of the most exciting points of the count was, when we saw Horned Larks on the road and in the field. Of course, loads and loads of European Starlings were sitting in trees and sometimes flying. The Downy Woodpecker, agile and multi-colored, was the only woodpecker that we saw, and the American Robin was a surprising find at Kinnikinnick Fen (http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/kinnikinnick). My brother also spotted 38 Canada Geese at the fen. While the birds are the main goal, one of the biggest things for me was that the CBC demonstrates that work, like recording the average birds in one area for research-based reasons, can be pleasant and even motivational.

Cassandra and her brother Case went on the Beaver Valley CBC and the Kingston CBC in Ross County.


OWU junior – Kyle Davis

Hi, my name is Kyle Davis. I am currently a junior at Ohio Wesleyan University. Like many of us, I have been watching birds for as long as I can remember. I became a more serious birder after meeting my mentor and friend Dr. Edward H. Burtt Jr. (Dr. Jed). I was in 6th grade when I attended my first Christmas Bird Count. The count was the Delaware Reservoir Christmas Bird Count and Dr. Jed invited me. I still help with the Delaware Reservoir Christmas Bird Count and I am now a section leader of the area that I used to help Dr. Jed with. I also met Darlene Sillick in 5th grade, but did not attend the O’Shaughnessy Reservoir Christmas Bird Count until I was a junior in High School. After participating in the O’Shaughnessy Reservoir Christmas Bird Count for a few years, Darlene asked, if I would be interested in learning how to run a Christmas Bird Count. I told her that I would be interested and became a co-compiler for the O’Shaughnessy Reservoir Christmas Bird Count. This is the first year that I have gone to the Kingston Christmas Bird Count, because Darlene invited me to participate in her group.

I participate in Christmas Bird Counts, because I enjoy birding. I like that each year we can go to the same area and see different species of birds. I also like participating in the Christmas Bird Counts, because I can work with Darlene. Darlene has helped me a lot with my own projects, so I am happy that I can help her organize the O’Shaughnessy Reservoir Christmas Bird Count. Each year that I participate, I have fun, new memories with friends and likeminded people who participate in the counts. Furthermore, I have met and made many new friends. But the best part of the Christmas Bird Counts is that each year brings new and different experiences.

Kyle participated in the Delaware Reservoir and Kingston CBC and is co-compiler for the O’Shaughnessy Reservoir CBC.


Big Walnut senior – Troy Herrel – He has been birding for one year and works part time at Wild Birds Unlimited in Westerville, Ohio

Hello, my name is Troy Herrel and I recently participated in three Christmas Bird Counts on December 17th, December 31st and January 1st. In the past year, I have become increasingly more interested in birds. My friend Kyle Davis got me interested in bird watching, banding and taking care of bluebird boxes. I spend a lot of my free time birding, so when I was asked to do a Bird Count, I was pretty eager to do so.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Bird counts for many reasons. Even though it was cold, I still had fun. I enjoyed being with some birders who I already knew, as well as meeting some new people. Some of the more experienced birders gave me tips on how to identify certain birds and pointed out things I wouldn’t have seen, if it was just me. I saw several birds I had never seen before such as a Merlin and a Lapland Longspur. I enjoyed my time out in the cold with friends and I can’t wait to do it again next year!

Troy participated in the Delaware Reservoir, O’Shaughnessy and Kingston CBC.


Photo credits: All bird photos are from the Audubon society’s field guide (http://www.audubon.org/field-guide)