The annual Christmas Bird Count – one of the best examples of citizen science in the world – is set for Dec. 17 in the Hay River area.
Gary Vizniowski, a local birder and the organizer of the local count, explained the international event is a chance to estimate the number of birds in the area.
“Basically, it runs all day from 12:01 a.m. until midnight,” he said. “But usually we’re just out daylight hours, which are not too long because that’s pretty close to the shortest day of the year.”
Vizniowski said two types of observers can participate in the count.
One group of people simply watch the bird feeders in their yards, and count the number and species of the birds they see.
“And then we have just a few people, not too many, that will go out and travel around to some of the out-of-town areas to see what we can see there,” said Vizniowski. “Because some things like the grouse and ptarmigan and other birds you’re not going to see in town, but you will see out there.”
The first Christmas Bird Count in Hay River was held in 1977 and it has been held off and on since then.
Vizniowski has been the organizer of the count and the compiler of the local data since 2006.
The count in Hay River takes place within a designated circle, which is 24 kilometres in diameter and centred on the communications towers south of the new health centre.
“So basically, it includes all of Hay River,” said Vizniowski, adding it also includes the Hay River Reserve and south on Highway 2 past the golf course.
The circle was created in the 1970s and has remained unchanged since then.
Started in 1900 in the United States, the Christmas Bird Count now includes more than 2,000 locations throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Vizniowski said the information collected by the thousands of volunteers is used by conservation biologists and naturalists to determine the population trends and distribution of birds.
Over the last 10 years in Hay River, for example, the count has shown a declining number of ravens.
“There are some species we’re not seeing as much of,” Vizniowski added. “We used to see a lot of evening grosbeaks, but now we’re just seeing a few and not every year.”
The prior Christmas Bird Count in Hay River – held on Jan. 2, 2016 – spotted 17 species and a total of 709 birds, compared to 591 the previous winter.
Each Christmas Bird Count has to be held on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 inclusive.