Randy Yohe Published

Christmas Bird Count Has W.Va. Birders Watching Skies, Waters

Scientists could use recordings of wildlife to monitor the movements of invasive species like the European starling.

Many West Virginians are focusing their binoculars right now, contributing to the annual Christmas Bird Count.   

This is the 123rd year for the Audubon Society’s global bird count, conducted between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. David Patick compiles count numbers for a group of Cabell and Mason county birders. He said the tradition has become a yule tool for avian analysis.

“The count started on Christmas Day in 1900. It was an ornithologist named Frank Chapman, who was with the American Museum of Natural Science in New York,” Patick said. “He conducted it as a protest against some of the hunters and made an attempt at conservation and protecting the birds.”

Patick said counts are underway throughout the state, with participants picking one date and recording all the numbers and species of birds they see over a 24-hour period. He said his small group of birders tallied some big numbers.

“You’re tabulating every bird, just seeing how much you see. For crows we had close to 1,100. We had one rare bird called the Great Egret seen near Ashton, the first time it’s ever been seen. We had another group that counted along the Ohio River looking for waterfowl.” Patick said. “You get unusual birds and more common birds, but you count every single starling, every blackbird, every sparrow, every duck. You’re counting all the species you see and then adding up the numbers.”

Patick said the bird count data that comes in from counties, states, and the nations of the Western Hemisphere helps with species preservation and give us all a better understanding of how our feathered friends live.

“They look at population trends, see if there’s any population decline and any species decline due to lack of food or climate change,” Patick said. ”Sometimes you see very rare species that should be in Central America that somehow never made it, or birds that went off course usually found in Arizona that end up showing up in New York.”

Patick said for him, the love of birding is also about getting outside and getting together.

You enjoy quality time with people who have similar interests, you get exercise, look at the flowers and you get to meet nice people,” Patick said. “There’s a thrill of seeing birds, some people take pictures of the birds, there’s a lot of excitement about it.”

Patick said the American starling is West Virginia’s most abundant bird, followed by the common crow and the blue jay.