Utah birders break out binoculars for national bird count
Birdwatchers across the Wasatch Back gathered to collect valuable data about local bird populations in the annual Christmas Bird Count.
Binoculars around their necks and field guides in hand, a flock of several dozen birders gathered at the Wasatch Mountain State Park early Thursday morning, Jan. 4.
They formed small groups and spread out across the Heber Valley, eager to document the state of local bird populations.
“We’re here looking for as many species as possible, but also counting numbers of individual birds… for the National Audubon Society,” Heber City resident Matt Williams said.
He was gearing up for an eight-hour day of birding. At the end of the count, he’d come back with a list of what he spotted over the course of the day. Williams hoped for 75 or 80 species on his list.
“There’s some counts up in Alaska that only get, like, raven and chickadee,” he said. “There’s some stalwart volunteers all over the country doing this.”
Midway resident Cary Hobbs was among them. Pencil and paper in hand, he was the scribe in a trio of birders making their way along the Provo River.
“We’ve got a red-tailed hawk, we’ve got five magpies,” he said, “and 24 starlings, 24 ravens, 6 goldfinch, 10 chickadees, a song sparrow, about 25 robins and one rooster.”
The annual Christmas Bird Count, held around the U.S. for a couple of weeks every year, is the longest-running citizen science project in the country, according to Utah Division of Natural Resources park ranger and naturalist Kathy Donnell.
“This is the 124th annual bird count,” she said.
Conservation scientists rely on the data citizens collect to understand the long-term health of habitats and bird populations around the country. They use information from the Christmas Bird Count to spot environmental issues and strategize solutions. Americans have already logged close to 8 million birds during this year’s event.
“The more we know about the birds in our community, the more we care about the birds in our community,” Williams said. “Conservation really happens through people caring about what they see and loving the natural world around them.”
He said anyone can become a birder: just start by looking around.
Results of this year’s Christmas Bird Count will be available on the Audubon website.