The Hippo


Jul 16, 2019








Two birders counting in the snow. Photo by Zeke Cornell.

Upcoming bird counts

When: Saturday, Dec. 27
Contact: Richard Bielawski at
Laconia-New Hampton 
When: Saturday, Jan. 3
Contact: Pam Hunt at
See for all NH count circle info.

Fowl play
Birders gather for annual Audubon count

By Allie Ginwala

To learn about birds of a feather, groups of bird watchers will flock together and embrace the cold during the 115th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. 

The long running National Audubon Society data collection effort kicked off in mid-December and will continue into early January. 
“We want to support the Christmas Bird Count because it’s a long-term data collection vehicle so we can gather information about bird populations over the long term,” said Becky Suomala, New Hampshire Audubon biologist, in a phone interview. 
Since the Christmas Bird Count is a national effort, New Hampshire Audubon isn’t involved but wants to lend support to the state chapters that choose to participate. 
New Hampshire has 21 count circles, each with a 15-mile diameter, across the state. Novice and experienced volunteer birders spend a few hours or a whole day walking their area and counting birds to help future research and analysis of bird population trends.
The Christmas Bird Count was started in 1900 by Frank Chapman as an alternative to the traditional holiday hunt, where people would go out and shoot as many birds and other animals as they could. Instead of marking the holiday season with a mass hunt, Chapman opted to count the birds and other animals. That first year there were 26 counts nationwide, including one in Keene, Suomala said. Today, Christmas Bird Counts take place in the U.S., Canada, South America and Central America. 
Run solely by volunteers, the Christmas Bird Count circles are a community effort where anyone can help out. All you have to do is find a count circle (go to the “resources” tab on for a map) and contact the compiler to be added to the count. 
The compiler coordinates all of the people within a count circle, making sure everything is covered and that those new to birding are paired with someone more experienced, Suomala said. 
An “experienced birder” is one who is first and foremost able to identify the birds. 
“You have people able to say, yup that’s a black-capped chickadee or a tufted titmouse,” Suomala said. “The other thing … is plan a route through your area so that you don’t repeat places and double-count birds.”
Pam Hunt, count circle compiler and avian conservation biologist for New Hampshire Audubon, has led the Laconia-New Hampton count for the past 15 years.
“I’ve been bird watching since I was 12,” Hunt said in a phone interview. 
Bird lovers who are willing to spend a December or January day outdoors will have the chance to meet people and learn a bit about some feathered friends. Everyone from “really hardcore birders” to casual bird feeder watchers turn up each year, Hunt said. There’s often a friendly competition among birders to see who can count the most species or find the most unique bird during the day. Even though the rare sightings are less useful for research purposes, Hunt said, it makes for a great day of socializing and nature appreciation.
For those who live within a circle but don’t want to spend the day outside, contact the circle compiler and learn about participating simply by watching your backyard feeder.
Counting birds in the winter is vital for researchers to learn about population habits as a whole. 
“It gives us a picture of some of our year-round residents,” Suomala said. “It gives us a time to count them and [see]...increases in some species and ups and downs in other species.” 
The introduction of Carolina wrens, the increase of house finches followed by a decline due to a salmonella outbreak, and even the correlation between the introduction of West Nile virus to the U.S. and the American crow are all research topics that used data from the Christmas Bird Count. 
“You can look at patterns in New Hampshire, in the Northeast, in North America. You can learn anything you want to,” Suomala said.  
As seen in the December 25, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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