(Posted Jan. 2, 2019)
By Josh Jordan, Staff Writer
The National Audubon Society held its 119th Christmas bird count Dec. 14-Jan. 5, and Central Ohio’s Metro Parks did their part.
The park system held bird count programs at five of its parks, including two with acreage in Madison County. Volunteer counters armed with binoculars gathered at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park near West Jefferson on Dec. 29 and at Glacier Ridge Metro Park near Plain City on Dec. 31. The park system also held counts at parks in Lewis Center and Westerville.
“We’re going to compile the data and send it to an overall database,” said Lindsay Krusling, a naturalist at Battelle Darby Creek.
“They’re going to look up and start making maps of where all the bird species are all across the U.S. and in other parts of the world that do this. Their goal is to create an overall map of birding distribution and also look for some of the rarer species that may appear.”
The Audubon Society also uses the data for research projects on a variety of topics, from the health of individual habitats to the overall status of the world’s climate. Conservationists across North America use the information to strategize how to best protect birds and their habitats.
While the Metro Parks have only been an official Audubon Society bird count participant for two years, the count has been happening all over the United States since 1901. Its original purpose was to stop a practice known as the Christmas Side Hunt.
“Back in the 1800s, the thing to do was to go out and see how many birds and animals you could kill for Christmas,” said Chad Biegler of Columbus, one of the volunteers at this year’s Battelle Darby Creek bird count. “Shoot anything that moves and whoever gets the biggest pile, wins! And then they just throw it all away.”
In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed the switch from a hunt to a count. He was one of the original officers of what is now the National Audubon Society.
The Christmas bird count was successful in helping to end the “side hunt” and it continues to grow every year. It now takes place in all of North America and the Caribbean Islands and last year involved about 77,000 participants.
At Battelle Darby Creek this year, two Metro Parks employees and eight volunteers met at the nature center to continue the tradition and advance science. They split into three groups to count birds across the park’s differing terrains, including wetlands, heavily wooded areas and the creek shoreline.
Last year, 62 species were recorded and sent to the Audubon Society from Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park. Birds spotted included everything from Canada geese and bald eagles to belted kingfishers and yellow-rumped warblers. When this year’s count is finalized, results will be posted at audubon.org.