Join us to help monitor central Ohio’s wintering birds in one of the longest-running volunteer censuses in the region.
To learn more about each area count, see columbusaudubon.org/cbc.
Between Dec 16 and Jan 1, central Ohio will host six different Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs). Each will run on a different day (save for two overlaps), so the hardcore among you can aim for participating in three or more. Each of them will cover a 15-mile diameter circle in different areas of central Ohio, so you’ll always be looking at different habitats and birds. From the urban parks of Columbus, to the wildlife areas of Delaware and Hoover Reservoirs to the rural back roads of Union County and Buckeye Lake; there are different experiences to be found on any of our local CBCs. But it’s also serious data-gathering, as we tally up our local birds, hoping for those rarities or unexpected twists that make for a memorable day, even in winter.
Christmas Bird Counts have a long and colorful history, starting in 1901 in New England, but quickly spreading across the country as a genteel protest against the old tradition of a Christmas Day hunt that killed all manner of small birds and animals for ‘sport.’ Some of Ohio’s counts date back to the 1920s, but central Ohio counts didn’t start in earnest until the 1940s. In the 1960s National Audubon codified the experience, restricting it to one day and the 15-mile diameter circle, so serious data collection is said to have started at that point. Before that, teams traveled all over the place to inflate their lists in a spasm of competition that did little to clarify our understanding of winter bird numbers and distribution. After that, it all became more scientific. And make no mistake about it, this ‘protest action’ has morphed into a big-time Citizen Science endeavor, with thousands of volunteers gathering huge amounts of data on wintering birds.
Locally, you have a choice of dates and locations for different counts. Leading off on Saturday, Dec 16 are the Hoover Reservoir and Buckeye Lake counts. Despite its name, The Hoover Reservoir CBC covers much of southern Delaware County, including Hoover and most of Alum Creek Lake, as well as Highbanks, Sharon Woods, and Inniswoods Metro Parks. The Buckeye Lake CBC, one of the oldest in the area, covers many of the parks and shoreline of that reservoir and nearby Hebron and Millersport. The Columbus CBC runs on Sunday, Dec 17, and covers much of the urban area of Franklin County, including the many river and creek greenbelts and associated parks around the city, as well as Blendon Woods and Blacklick Woods. Also running on Sunday, Dec 17 is the Delaware CBC, covering Delaware Lake and Wildlife Area, along with many of the areas in central Delaware County. On Sunday, Dec 31, the O’Shaughnessy Reservoir CBC rolls out, covering that reservoir plus a big swath of land around the intersection of Franklin, Union and Delaware Counties, including Glacier Ridge Metro Park and much of north Dublin. Rounding out the card is the Kingston CBC on Jan 1, which covers the rich area between Circleville and Chillicothe, including parts of Tar Hollow, Great Seal State Park, and the Scioto River floodplain. You have no shortage of options for parks and habitats this year.
What birds can we find on a cold December day? You’d be startled at the number of birds that call central Ohio a winter home. Most of the CBCs average between 65-80 species, depending on the weather of the Count Day and how many teams they can get into the field. (First shameless plug: we need you on these counts, because more eyes equals more birds.) Most of the counts have lakes and reservoirs that are attracting an increasing number of overwintering waterfowl. Rural areas often have huge flocks of blackbirds or sparrows, and can have irruptions of raptors, winter finches, and horned larks. In urban areas like Columbus and parts of Hoover, the feeders and lush plantings of some neighborhoods are attracting other more unusual wintering birds like thrushes and warblers. And with so many people out birding on the same date, you can often find very unexpected birds. The Columbus 2016 Count Day fell on a day with a cold front that pushed through flocks of Sandhill Cranes. Most teams had flyovers of these magnificent birds that day. Unpredictable moments like these are what make CBCs so memorable and special.
Much as we might glamorize species lists and rarities, however, the real value of these counts seems to be in documenting the population changes of ‘common’ birds. It’s in building up good totals of woodpeckers, chickadees, robins, and the like, where CBCs have shown their real value. Few bird species have totally stable numbers, but some have shown long-term trends that couldn’t have been seen without the long view of CBCs. We’ve watched over the years as certain birds have steadily increased in central Ohio – birds like Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Carolina Wrens, and Eastern Bluebirds – while others have slowly declined – like Kestrels, Meadowlarks, and Rusty Blackbirds. We can’t see these trends – and decipher what they mean and how to respond to them – if we don’t get many of you out into the field this season. So please consider spending a morning or more with some of these CBCs this season. It’s a great virtuous cycle – we all learn a little more about our wintering birds, which helps us figure out how to attract and find more of them. So choose a count…or two or three..and please help!