Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 10, 2013

Locals spot 68 bird species as part of annual U.S. count

The Andover Townsman

---- — Andover birders helped the National Audubon Society completes its 113th Christmas Bird Count.

Every year for the past 112 years, the National Audubon Society has compiled a bird count around Christmastime. This year, over 60,000 volunteers across the country were counting birds between Dec. 14, 2012 and Jan. 5, 2013. Locally, bird watchers from the Merrimack Valley Bird Club were part of the effort, many rising before dawn to participate in the world’s longest running wildlife census, according to Andover’s Donna Cooper.

All the data is collected by a Circle Leader and submitted to the National Audubon Society in early January. This year a seven sector

Circle was led by Coope. Other local sector leaders include Al and Evelyn Retelle, Bill Headley, John Robinson, Lou

Wagner, Mike Timko and Dave Williams, she said.

This year the local club reported 13,455 birds from 68 species. Some birds are found in huge numbers like the American crow, which was seen in huge flocks of thousands over Lawrence. Others are found singly like the bald eagle, the purple finch or the yellow-rumped warbler.

The count is open to anyone who feels comfortable identifying birds and can be done at home or by joining a group in the field. Next winter before the season begins the club hopes to recruit some new participants, according to Cooper.

The count began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore (which evolved into Audubon magazine) suggested an alternative to the holiday “side hunt,” in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most small game, including birds. Chapman proposed that people count birds instead.

The Merrimack Valley Bird Club has supported the National Audubon Society for over 50 years. The club is responsible for a “circle” of territory about 10 miles in diameter that stretches from North Reading to Lawrence and from Tewksbury to North Andover. On a date determined by National Audubon Society, the club sends out teams of birders to drive or walk through as much of the area as possible and count species and numbers of birds. Other volunteers do a “feeder watch” in which they observe and count birds that come to their feeders at home.

Last year’s count shattered records, according to a release. Nationally, a total of 2,248 counts and 63,227 people tallied over 60 million birds. Counts took place in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces, plus 99 count circles in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.

“This is not just about counting birds,” Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist, said in a release. “Data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count are at the heart of hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies and informs decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of the Interior, and the EPA. Because birds are early indicators of environmental threats to habitats we share, this is a vital survey of North America and, increasingly, the Western Hemisphere.”