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No cactus pygmy owls seen in December’s bird count

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

Species: 134

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

Mallard 536

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

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