From Ketchikan to Prudhoe Bay, every year Alaskans bundle up and gather together to celebrate the holiday season by braving the elements for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.
Groups of volunteers select a day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, 2014 to conduct the count. In Juneau this year, the count is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 4.
Volunteers have 24 hours to record as many birds as possible within a 15-mile diameter. Volunteers participate in counts in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces, several Central and South American countries and several Pacific and Caribbean islands. Last year, there were 38 counts held across Alaska. Many counts end with a social gathering to tally lists and crow over the best birds.
The count is offered as a free event. Interested local volunteers may go online to http://www.juneau-audubon-society.org for details on this year’s Juneau and Douglas count.
First organized in the Lower 48 and eastern Canada in 1900 with just 27 birdwatchers, this season marks the 114th Christmas Bird Count. In Juneau, volunteers have carried out Christmas Bird Counts for 41 years.
“The Christmas Bird Count is a great way for volunteers of all ages, from kids to grandparents, to participate together in one of the longest running citizen-science projects in the world,” said Nils Warnock, executive director of Audubon Alaska. “With more than a century of data nationwide and 70 years in Alaska, this is a powerful tool that helps scientists look for changes in Alaska’s bird populations and ranges.”
There are more birds and bird watchers than you might expect in Alaska in the winter, according to the group. On 38 counts across the state, the 1,091 observers (an Alaska record) who participated last year tallied 143 species (about the same as the five-year average) and 132,311 individual birds (a little more than the five-year average). Ketchikan recaptured the title by seeing 79 species, topping Kodiak’s 76 species.
Juneau volunteers counted 4,868 mallards, a record high for Southeast. There was also the first Christmas Bird Count instance of a European House Sparrow outside of Ketchikan, with one reported from the Mitkof Island count.
New birds for Alaska counts were a black guillemot (a seabird that usually winters in the Bering Strait region), a palm warbler (a small songbird that usually winters on the coast in the Lower 48), and Western gull (which usually doesn’t come further north than Vancouver Island).
Alaska Christmas Bird Counts welcome volunteers of all skill levels.