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Keen eyes needed for annual bird count

A pair of feathered friends search for food on the shores of Keizer’s Statts Lake. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)
A pair of feathered friends search for food on the shores of Keizer’s Statts Lake. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

For the Keizertimes

Next Saturday, Dec. 14, Keizer residents will have the opportunity to participate in the longest-running animal census in the world, Audubon’s 114th Annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC).

Rich Ford, a Keizer resident and former board member of the Salem Audubon Society, is the sector leader for the Keizer area. An experienced birdwatcher himself, he welcomes people of all ages and skill levels to join the CBC, from “people who have never birded to people who can identify birds solely by sound.”

The CBC began as an alternative to a very different Christmas tradition. In the late 1800s, the men of the household often participated in “side hunts,” taking a day to shoot as many birds as possible, whether or not they were game birds. However, in 1900, Frank Chapman proposed a bird census to replace these hunts.

From the original 27 participants in 1900, the CBC has grown to include more than 70,000 citizen scientists across the globe last year, according to the Audubon Society’s website.

The data from the CBC is collected by researchers at Cornell University. It has been used to track declining bird populations and also to determine whether conservation efforts are helping bird populations.

In addition to helping birds, the data from the count can shed light on environmental problems for humans, such as groundwater contamination.

The CBC helps in these ways because, Ford noted, the bird counters try to go to the same places every year to count birds.

“If you count different areas every year, you may not be getting an accurate picture of bird activity. If I go to the same pond year after year, I can see trends,” he said.

In this way, the CBC serves as a yearly snapshot of bird activity in a particular area.

Ford tries to scout areas in the Keizer area a week before the count, focusing on areas near water where birds like to make their habitat. He uses this information to create routes for the birdwatchers in his sector.

On the day of the bird count, participants will meet at a coffee shop at 7:30 a.m. and, depending on their numbers, stay in one group or split into several. Last year, with six participants in the Keizer sector, they were able to cover twice as much ground because they could go in two separate vehicles.

The counts are only approximate, owing to birds flying around and other limitations. Counters try not to duplicate counts. For instance, Ford said, if they see a group of Canada geese flying overhead and 20 minutes later see a group of the same bird feeding on the ground, they won’t count the second group unless they are sure they are distinctly different birds.

However, the fact that they saw Canada geese alone is important, because that is one more species to report. The counts include not just numbers of birds, but the numbers and types of species. Ford makes sure there is at least one experienced birder in each group, so there is always someone who can help identify the species of birds.

“The benchmark is around 100 types of birds for this area,” he said.

After a day of driving and walking around Keizer and the surrounding area, all participants are invited to the countdown dinner, which is usually at Ford’s home. This gives them an opportunity to socialize, warm up after a December day outside and report their counts to leaders of the Salem Audubon Society.

Ford encourages people of all ages and experience to participate.

“All we really ask is that you just have an interest, and make it fun,” he said. “It’s surprising, the birds you can find right here in Keizer.”

Anyone who wants to participate in the Keizer section of this year’s CBC should contact Rich Ford at (503)510-9583 or [email protected]