2009-12-12 / News

Buckeye Lake Bird Count dates back to 1921

BUCKEYE LAKE – The 87th annual Buckeye Lake Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is scheduled for Saturday, December 19. On this day, bird watchers will be searching areas of south-central Licking County, northeast Fairfield County, and northwest Perry County for as many different bird species as they can find, and tallying how many individuals they see.

Many such bird counts are conducted this time of year throughout Ohio, the other 49 states, all the Canadian provinces, and even other countries. Each count occurs on a specific day during the period from mid-December through the first weekend of January. Results of each CBC are submitted to the National Audubon Society, which compiles the results and publishes a summary in American Birds magazine.

The concept behind Christmas bird counts began over a century ago with scientist Frank M. Chapman. He was an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and an officer in the relatively new Audubon Society. In 1900, Chapman led a small group on an alternative to the “side hunt,” when teams competed to see who could shoot the most game. Instead, Chapman proposed they identify, count, and record all the birds they saw. The idea rapidly gained momentum and more and more people across the country began their own bird counts in the years that followed. Today there are nearly 50,000 volunteer citizen observers who participate in the bird counts.

According to the count’s organizer, Jeffrey White, the first Buckeye Lake CBC was held on December 26, 1921, and has been conducted every year since then except in 1923 and 1926.

Every CBC covers an area defined by a 15-mile diameter circle, which stays in the same location from year to year. The Buckeye Lake circle is centered in former amusement park and the count area contains a variety of habitats including the lake itself, wetlands, grasslands, ponds, streams, woodlands, residential neighborhoods, farm fields and fencerows. This yields a large variety of bird species.

On average, about 64 species are seen each year on the Buckeye Lake count. But the highest number was 96 species in 1956. Last year’s count yielded 69 species. Throughout the history of this count, a total of 148 species have been found.

All of the participants are volunteer birding enthusiasts. According to White, “people take part in bird count for various reasons. For some, birding is a favorite hobby and they enjoy the search for a big variety of species. Others do it for the scientific datagathering aspect to monitor bird populations. And, even if the birds are hiding from us, we all enjoy the camaraderie and having a reason to get out of the house on a winter day.”

Since 1921, over 485 different people have participated. This year, White anticipates about 20 observers. They will be divided into several parties, some covering their areas by car, while others will be on foot in areas like Infirmary Mound Park and Dawes Arboretum.

Residents, land owners, and hunters within the bird count area may also provide useful input. For example, people who maintain bird feeders around their home can report the birds they see during count day. Landowners and hunters who know of locations where wary species like wild turkeys and pheasants have been frequenting can let White know so he can be sure to check those places on count day. White would also appreciate knowing about any barns that have barn owls.

There’s a $5 participation fee for each field participant. Observers under 18 and feeder watchers do not need to pay the fee. These fees help to cover National Audubon Society’s costs of managing the bird count program, producing an annual summary magazine, and maintaining the CBC website and database.

Anyone wishing to help with the bird count should send an email to jeff@jeffrey-white.com before December 17th.

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