Minnesota’s 108th Christmas bird count

A 1938 Star Tribune newspaper photo of Minnesota pheasant hunters.  Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

As a former pheasant hunter, my eye went to this image right away. These are very likely not Christmas Bird Counters, but that’s how the annual avian census started 114 years ago. (In Minnesota, the tradition is 108 years old.) People went out on Christmas day to shoot every winged thing in sight, and they counted them.

These days, the counters are armed with binoculars and smart phones with apps for bird songs and calls that help them identify species. You’ll hear more about all that in a new episode of Minnesota Sounds and Voices today as part of All Things Considered on MPR News.

I joined a jolly band of birders recently at the Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley.  There are about 70 “circles” or bird census areas that dot Minnesota, and over a span of more than a century counters have gone each year to these circles to note the species present and tabulate their numbers.

The circles are fifteen miles in diameter and dot the state. The Minnesota Ornithological Union says over the years people have identified more than 200 species during the winter census. Biologists say more than 400 species have been identified as nesting or stopping in Minnesota throughout the year

The team I shadowed had oodles of birding experience, topped by Elizabeth Closmore who’s participated in 45 Christmas Bird Counts.  Another veteran, Bonnie Sample, was sort of the bird book keeper, if you will, a task she performs in her job with the Audubon Society.

Bonnie is part of the team creating what will be Minnesota’s first breeding bird atlas, a document which which will tell us how many species of the winged critters actually call Minnesota home by building and nesting and raising young.  Look for completion of that document in a couple of years.

You can visit the Audubon Society of Minnesota’s website if you’re interested in participating in the count this year.

Oh, and the tally for last Saturday’s group of Christmas bird counters?

The 39 counters from the Springbrook Nature Center identified more than 40 species and counted nearly 6,000 birds.

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