For Louisiana’s bird enthusiasts, the Christmas holidays are about more than counting blessings. It’s the time of the year when the birder community joins forces for the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.
For 116 years, citizen scientists have helped to compile a running list of what birds can be seen around the country, and for Louisiana birders, the variety to catalogue and count is vast. This year, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count runs from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.
Birders had spotted more than 90 species by the early afternoon at White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Gueydan on the first day of the count, said Erik Johnson, director of bird conservation for Audubon Louisiana. Other counts are scheduled in New Orleans on Dec. 26, Lafayette on Dec. 28 and Baton Rouge on Jan. 2.
Last year, more than 72,000 volunteers participated in the bird count throughout the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands. In the United States, more than 600 species were identified.
The count is done by setting up survey circles 15 miles in diameter. In Louisiana, 25 of these count circles have been set up and assigned a day on which the count will be done.
“So one circle is run on a certain day chosen by the person who runs the count, called the compiler,” Johnson said. Typically, the compiler will divide the circle into sections and assign an experienced birder to each section. Someone who has little or no experience can be paired up with a more veteran birder for a few hours or the whole day, Johnson said.
There’s no need for first-timers to feel intimidated, he said; birders in Louisiana love to show off the diversity that can be found in the state during winter.
“Learn to watch birds with your eyes and ears and not your binoculars,” Johnson offered as a good tip for beginners. Observing the behavior of different bird species is part of the enjoyment of bird watching, he said.
“It’s really important for people to not be intimidated about it,” he said.
People can also count birds in their own backyard if their property is included in a designated circle and they do the count on the assigned day, he said.
Common birds that can be seen in Louisiana in winter include the yellow-rumped warbler, a variety of woodpeckers, sparrows and more, he said.
“The diversity is really wonderful,” he said.
Counters also look for unusual species that may usually winter somewhere else but, for a number of reasons, made it to Louisiana this winter. Last year, Louisiana volunteers found 254 species including such birds as the Lucy’s warbler and the ferruginous hawk.
Details on the Christmas bird count and contact information for each leader are available at www.christmasbirdcount.org.