The numbers are in for Leduc's first official Christmas Bird Count, or CBC for short.
Begun by ornithologist Frank Chapman, on Christmas Day in 1900 he suggested starting a new tradition called the Christmas Bird Census that would replace the Christmas Side Hunt. Concerned with declining bird populations, Frank hoped to bring to a close the mass killing of furred and feathered creatures on Christmas and replace it by counting them instead.
Evidently his idea was a success as 112 years later CBC's take place worldwide, and it is the largest and longest running census in the world. As of the most recent numbers available, in 2012 a record number of 2,248 CBC's took place involving 63,227 observers, with 410 of those counts happening in Canada. So far this year over 7.7 million birds have been counted.
Observers taking part in the CBC mark down all the different species, and numbers thereof, that they either see or hear on the designated count day, as well as any unusual or notable behaviours. Once the information is gathered and turned in to the Audubon Society, they use the data to track the effects of climate change, pollution, or other changes that might be taking place. Birds are extremely sensitive to changes in their habitat, so marked changes in bird numbers can be an early warning sign of problems in an area, as well as alerting ornithologists to a species that may be in need of active conservation efforts.
Some of the agencies besides Audubon that use this information in their studies are Ducks Unlimited, Wildlife Habitat Canada, Partners In Flight, the Provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and the City of Leduc.
For the first annual Leduc CBC that took place on December 16th, fourteen people took part in helping to number our local feathered friends. The data collected included the weather conditions on that day, which was overcast and dull until about 2:00 pm, with winds from the west ranging between 5-10 km/h, and temperatures from -4 to -13.
Thirty different species were logged in our area including 106 Black-Capped Chickadees, 5 Purple Finches, 10 Hungarian Gray Partridge, 2 Merlins, and one Great Horned Owl.
Birds weren't the only animals out and about that winter day, as tracks from deer, coyote, rabbits and weasels were also noted. One sharp eyed observer even found markings where an owl had made a strike on some sort of prey, leaving distinctive wing and claw marks in the snow.
Organized by Andy Tait, he is hoping that this will be the first of many successful CBC's taking place in Leduc in the coming years. As the project grows it will eventually take in a larger count area and will require area supervisors to step forward and keep this important work moving forward. But for this, the first year in Leduc, the Christmas Bird Count was most assuredly a success, with our data adding one more piece to the puzzle of how to keep our world a healthier place for all species.