Society gears up for annual bird count

The Baton Rouge Audubon Society will hold a short orientation for newcomers and veteran bird watchers on Dec. 12 in preparation for the annual Christmas Bird Count in Baton Rouge on Jan. 5.

The 30-minute orientation will start at 6:30 p.m. at the LSU Museum of Natural Science in Foster Hall, said Melanie Driscoll, director of bird conservation with the National Audubon Society’s Gulf Coast Conservation/Mississippi Flyway program.

“Just explaining the Christmas Bird Count methodology, helping people understand they can participate even if they don’t have experience,” Driscoll said. “For people who are very inexperienced, they can get teamed up with people who are experienced.”

The annual Christmas Bird Count started in 1900 as an alternative to the holiday tradition of a “side hunt” where people would choose the sides and the group with the largest amount of killed birds and animals won the day, according to the National Audubon Society’s website.

Ornithologist Frank Chapman, who was an early officer in the Audubon Society, proposed the idea of counting birds on Christmas day and the first Christmas Bird Count was held. There were more than 20 areas in the country that participated that first year, including one in Baldwin.

There are now about 2,000 Christmas Bird Count 15-mile diameter circles counted each year by volunteers across the country and Canada. Many times, serious birders want to do more than just one bird count so the coordinators of bird circles around the state try to avoid overlapping their count dates, she said.

It’s the combination of the familiar in finding birds that are expected to be in the area this time of year and the prospect of finding something unusual that keeps many birders coming back to participate.

The program continues to grow with recent additions of bird circles being counted in the western part of the state.

“We have so much habitat in Louisiana, and people want to know what’s out there,” Driscoll said.

A typical day for a volunteer during the bird count will start well before dawn to get out to the section of the bird count circle they’ll be working that day.

Usually the actual counting begins around sunrise, Driscoll said, unless a particular team is working to do owl counts as well, and then those people will start around midnight.

“Typically people go until they’ve run out of territory or it gets dark,” Driscoll said.

The types of birds that any group will count will be very different depending on the location of their territory in Baton Rouge, she said.

In addition to ducks at University Lakes and yellow-rumped warblers in town, there’s the possibility of spotting rarities such as a roseate spoonbill or a Tennessee warbler, she said.

“It’s like Christmas. You think you know what’s under the tree, but there could always be a surprise,” Driscoll said.

The Christmas Bird Count provides valuable information to scientists who use the data collected to determine patterns and trends in bird populations, Driscoll said.

“It really contributes valuable data,” she said.