For almost 108 years, the Audubon Society has urged birders across the United States into the field for one week every winter to count birds.
Armed with binoculars, notebooks and checklists, the tens of thousands of citizen scientists take tallies and send the data to the national office, where it becomes part of a national database. Tucsonan Jean Hengesbaugh spent three days last month on the local count, which started in 1957.
“For me it’s just a fun activity,” said the 15-year bird-watching veteran.
Hengesbaugh spent a day each on predefined routes in Sabino Canyon, Holy Hope Cemetery and Evergreen Mortuary & Cemetery logging every bird she saw or could identify by song. She counted 696 birds across 72 species, she said.
Her team identified mockingbirds, sparrows, Cooper’s hawks and one of five great horned owls spotted here this year. No one saw a cactus ferruginous pygmy owl in the local count this year, though they have been seen in past counts.
Locally, 60 birders counted 21,687 birds and 134 species, including mourning doves (3,178), Cooper’s hawks (54) and one brown-headed cowbird. Just eight greater roadrunners were spotted. There are more than 30 Christmas Bird Counts annually in Arizona.
The information is far more than just fun – scientists regularly tap the data, said Geoff LeBaron, Audubon’s national bird count director.
“The Christmas Bird Count has become one of the most important tools for long-term monitoring of bird populations,” LeBaron said.
Seeing how bird populations shift can help scientists determine how the future will play out, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Tucson Audubon Society
Christmas Bird Count
Birds counted: 21,672
Some of the species seen in Tucson’s count in December:
Mourning dove 3,178
Northern shoveler 2,626
House finch 1,910
Gambel’s quail 1,160
Yellow-headed blackbird 1,010
Red-tailed hawk 80
Cooper’s hawk 54
Great blue heron 16
Species not seen this year but seen in previous Tucson counts: Snow goose, Canada goose, American bittern, turkey vulture, bald eagle, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, northern goshawk, greater peewee.
Source: Tucson Audubon Society