The annual Christmas Bird Count at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge will take place on Saturday, December 30, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Meet at the Prairie Learning and Visitor Center at 8:00 a.m., where volunteer birders will be divided into groups to count birds on the Refuge. Birders of all ages and skill levels are welcome and encouraged to participate; an experienced birder will help guide each group. Please pre-register by contacting Karen Viste-Sparkman at 515-994-3400 or Karen_vistesparkman@fws.gov by December 27 if you wish to participate. There is no charge for participation.
Come dressed for the weather and wear good shoes for walking. Bring binoculars and a field guide if you have them as well as snacks and water. At noon, groups will reconvene at the Prairie Learning Center for a free lunch provided by the Friends of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Participants will share their results of birds sighted on the refuge. After lunch, those who wish to will spend a few more hours birding off-refuge sites within the count circle, which is a 15-mile diameter circle centered on Vandalia.
During the Christmas Bird Count, birds of all species are counted, with estimates made when actual counts aren’t possible. Each group tallies its results, and the totals from each group are combined. People who live within 7.5 miles of Vandalia (including the towns of Prairie City and Runnells) and have bird feeders can also participate by counting birds at their feeders that day and reporting the data to the refuge.
The information collected during the count will go into a database sponsored by Audubon, and is used to track long-term trends in bird populations and distribution. Local data for Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is used to track changes in bird populations over time, or can be pooled with other areas to detect population patterns over a large area.
The Christmas Bird Count is a nation-wide activity organized by Audubon. The first Christmas Bird Count took place in 1900 as an alternative to the tradition of shooting as many birds and other game as possible on Christmas. Since then, counts have spread and now take place from Alaska to Antarctica. Tens of thousands of volunteers participate, making it the largest and longest-running “Citizen Science” survey in the world. The data have been used to detect declines in populations of many bird species. They have also shown increases in species such as Bald Eagles.
For more information or to participate in Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge’s Christmas Bird Count, please contact the refuge at 515-994-3400.