Submitted by Metro Parks Tacoma.
Forget French hens, turtle doves and partridges in pear trees. This Saturday, December 18, Tacomans have the chance to get outside and count real Northwest birds for the holidays – and join thousands of others around the country in the longest-running community science project in the world. It’s the Christmas Bird Count, led by the Audubon Society, and thanks to the Tahoma Audubon Society branch you can sign up to count birds all over the city, including many Tacoma parks.
“The beauty and stillness of the parks in the early morning was wonderful,” says Daniel Cuevas, Tahoma Audubon’s vice-president, who took part in the Christmas Bird Count for the first time last year at China Lake, Snake Lake and the Tacoma Community College forests. “And I learned that black-capped chickadees can be quite territorial!”
The Count divides countries around the world into circular zones with a 15-mile radius, which are then subdivided into smaller “areas” to better gather and sort data of birds spotted. Signing up for one of the four areas within Tacoma is easy. Just check out the map at tahomaaudubon.org/community-science, pick your area and click the link to sign up with an Audubon coordinator. You’ll receive instructions on how to count and note birds you see, plus links to bird ID guides, apps and more on the Audubon Society website.
“You can count birds anywhere with a habitat, which includes most Tacoma parks and even some backyards,” notes Britt McGrath, Tahoma Audubon’s education and outreach manager, who was Cuevas’ counting buddy last year. Together, they counted 46 species.
Parks covered in the Count include Point Defiance Park, China Lake, Snake Lake (the Tacoma Nature Center), Dickman Mill, Swan Creek Park, Wapato Park and Dune Peninsula, and the variety of habitats between those mean a variety of birds, too – way beyond French hens and partridges.
Swift green Anna’s hummingbirds, dark-eyed Juncos, spotted towhees, chickadees, robins, flickers, sparrows, eagles and crows – every bird counts in the Christmas Bird Count.
And if you want numbers, try these: The Count has been running now for 122 years, having launched on Christmas Day, 1900 on the East Coast as a peaceful alternative to hunting birds. Twenty-seven people took part, counting 90 species. Today, that’s blossomed into over 50,000 participants in almost 2,000 locations counting up to 124 species.
All that data has allowed Audubon researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies and others to study the long-term health of bird populations across North America – some of which are declining precipitously. It provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years, informing strategies to protect birds and their habitat. And it helps identify environmental issues that can have implications for humans as well.
The other big bonus of counting birds in winter is that it gets you out into the beautiful, quiet world of winter parks. Bare branches reveal things hidden in summer, the air is still and crisp, and the forest surrounds you with beneficial phytoncides, improving overall well-being and lowering stress levels. All of which is very much needed during the holidays! Just remember: No large gatherings or carpooling, and follow state and local Covid-19 guidelines.
So take a break from counting presents, chores and grocery bills, and head out into a park to count real calling birds. You’ll find many more than four, and you’ll be helping protect thousands of others. Happy counting!
SIGN UP: tahomaaudubon.org/community-science