The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is set for 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 5, and is open to birders of all ages and skill levels.
Participants should meet at the visitor center, where volunteer birders will be divided into groups to count birds on the refuge. An experienced birder will help guide each group. At noon, there will be a free hot lunch provided by the Friends of Neal Smith NWR, and groups will share their results of birds sighted on the refuge.
After lunch, those who wish to will spend a few more hours birding off-refuge sites within the count circle, which is a 15-mile diameter circle centered on Vandalia.
Register for the free program by Monday, Dec. 31, to ensure that the refuge has enough materials and personnel to provide the best birding experience for all participants and to be sure there is enough food available for participants. To register, contact Karen Viste-Sparkman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (515) 994-3400.
Participants should come dressed for the weather, wear good shoes for walking and bring binoculars and field guides, although a limited number will be available for those who don’t have them. Additionally, attendees are asked to bring their own snacks and reusable water bottle.
During the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, all birds of all species are counted, with estimates made when actual counts are not possible. Each group tallies its results, and the totals from each group are combined. People who live within 7.5 miles of Vandalia (including Prairie City and Runnells) and have bird feeders can also participate by counting birds at their feeders that day.
The information collected during the count will go into a database sponsored by Audubon and is used to track long-term trends in bird populations and distribution. Local data for Neal Smith NWR are used to track changes in bird populations over time, and are pooled with other areas to detect population trends over a large area.
The Christmas Bird Count is a nation-wide activity organized by Audubon. The first Christmas Bird Count took place in 1900 as an alternative to the tradition of shooting as many birds and other game as possible on Christmas. Since then, counts have spread and now take place from Alaska to Antarctica. Tens of thousands of volunteers participate, making it the largest and longest-running “Citizen Science” survey in the world. The data have been used to detect declines in populations of many bird species. They have also shown increases in species such as Bald Eagles.