The 120th Christmas Bird Count in North America kicked off Saturday. It’s an event Lethbridge has been taking part in for the past 30 years, according to local bird watcher and enthusiast Ken Orich.
This bird count season takes place annually from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, covering a vast space with 38 different areas to go over.
The first day of the count starts early in the morning around 8 a.m. and goes until sunset, according to Orich, a member of Lethbridge’s Naturalist Society and lead organizer of the local count.
Dozens of volunteers spread across Lethbridge to see how many birds they can spot. Orich says the count can be an excellent bonding activity for friends and families to partake in.
“Back in the late 1800s on Christmas day or in the Christmas period, people would go out and shoot every bird they could find and think of and it was kind of a contest,” Orich said.
Orich said things changed in the 1900s when a man by the name of Frank Chapman came along and said: “why don’t we just count the birds instead of shooting them?”
Orich added that Champan was an American Ornithologist, which means he studied birds and the systems relating to them.
From then on, a Christmas bird count would take place every year around this time. Now the goal of the event is to track data on how the birds are doing and how many there are, instead of shooting them.
Orich says it can take some time to compile all of the data collected from the count for the National Audubon Society, which then looks at migration trends and the health status relating to the dozens of species that are spotted. He also said thousands of birds are counted across the Western Hemisphere each year during this event.
“Canada geese seem to really be trending upward the last few years, like last year we had close to 30,000, and back in the 80s, we were getting 5,000 or 6,000,” Orich said.
“Bald eagles seem to be coming up quite a bit over the last few years,” he said. “I think last year we had close to 54 or 60, close to that, so they seem to be trending up.”
Orich said Canadian geese have been trending upwards because they’ve had an abundance of food and water.
According to Orich, things like weather conditions and the number of participants involved in the count are taken into consideration as well.
For example, he says there tend to be fewer people out counting when it’s cold outside. He went on to say that birds tend to be more visible around the late morning and early afternoon when it warms up during the day winter.
“It seems like a quiet morning, kind of frosty and cold,” said Brian Wilson, one of the participants. Wilson and a fellow participant were covering the Henderson Park area for the bird count.
“We’ve come from the east end of the lake, we’ve seen some open water that contains mallards, male and female,” he said. “We’re hoping when the sun comes up and it warms up a little bit, we’ll find some other birds today.”