ST. GEORGE — A 122-year-old worldwide tradition takes flight at Bryce Canyon National Park this weekend, as the public is invited to participate in the world’s longest-running citizen bird census on Saturday.
The National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count is an annual event in assessing the health of bird populations throughout the Western Hemisphere. It brings together volunteers across the United States, South America, Canada, and distant Pacific islands, to assist scientists in assessing the health of bird populations.
“The Bryce Canyon Christmas Bird Count has been recording data since 2006, except for 2018, which did not occur due to a government shutdown,” Peter Densmore, Visual Information Specialist, Bryce Canyon National Park, said. “So far, we’ve recorded 90 different species of birds across these counts.”
This year’s free event begins at 8 a.m. at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center. The park is requesting volunteers. Beginners are paired with experienced birders. Groups will be provided with everything needed to conduct the count within the 15-mile radius assigned to the park. Following the morning count, a T-shirt will be supplied by the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association.
The original event began as an alternative to another holiday tradition, the national Christmas Side Hunt. Densmore said groups would go out and see who could bring in the biggest pile of birds. The bird count event was proposed in the early years of America’s conservation movement.
“On Christmas Day, the groups would go out and count the birds, rather than hunt them, essentially conducting a bird census,” Densmore said. “So this data over the past 122 years has allowed not only the Audubon Society, but conservation biologists, wildlife agencies, other organizations to study the long term health and conditions of bird populations across the country.”
When the bird count is combined with other surveys, such as the breeding bird survey, it shows how bird populations have changed over the years. The bird count data was also used in the Audubon’s Society Climate Change report.
A first of its kind, the report predicts how climate change could affect over 500 North American bird species. The Environmental Protection Agency used this data as one of its indicators of climate change in a 2012 report. The report is utilized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agency reports to understand how birds are doing in North America.
“This is a citizen science event where the data is used for real science,” Densmore said. “But the other side of the coin is what I love about the event; it’s a bird evangelism opportunity. We’re inviting people that might have no birding experience to go out with those that do, and they have a positive experience learning some basic birding skills and connecting with birds in their area. Hopefully, getting people to make an emotional connection with the wildlife that surrounds them because that’s as important as having these numbers.”
People can also count birds from their home feeders throughout the holiday season until the first week of January. They can share their findings by emailing Bryce Canyon National Park or the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Paria River District. Other bird counts in Southwest Utah include Cedar City, St. George and Zion National Park.
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