ZOO-ology column: Join 112th annual Audubon Christmas bird count

Green Jays are one of the many species of birds you can see on the annual bird count.

By Judie Farnsworth

Do you enjoy birds? Do you have feeders in your yard? Do you like to bird watch on foot or from a vehicle?

And - wouldn't it be great to share your information, learn more and participate in an event that's more than a century old?

Have I got a deal for you. The Victoria County area of the 112th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will be on Dec. 17.

Volunteers from all walks of life work in groups to identify bird species and their numbers in designated areas. Each year, counts are in the same 15-mile circle (divided between groups) during the same period of time (Dec. 14-Jan. 5). This provides information about what's going on with bird populations as years pass and land usage changes.

No segment of an area is unimportant. The big picture - including your back yard - is what matters.

Feeder watchers are encouraged to register and report sightings if their yards are in the count circle. All results are compiled into a database that is shared among state, federal and some private authorities.

Hummingbirds are always of interest and this fall has already produced some other unusual "yard birds."

The first Christmas count was held on Christmas Day in 1900. It replaced a tradition called the Christmas Side Hunt where teams would compete to hunt birds.

The new "Christmas Census," inspired by Frank M. Chapman, involved 27 birders who identified a combined total of 90 species in 25 areas from California to Toronto, Canada.

Today, there are more than 2,000 counts and 60,000 participants. Last year, in Texas alone, 2,756 birders at 106 bird counts identified 392 species.

Can't tell a robin from a wren? If you can spot something with wings, an experienced person in the group (who can't see in all directions at once) will appreciate the heads up. And who knows, your sighting may end up being the most exciting bird of the day.

Groups may work from dawn to dusk, or before sun-up if they're owling. It's a busy time of year, so participating for even a morning or afternoon is helpful.

The Texas Zoo has been supportive of this activity for many years. Participants are invited to gather there at 6 p.m. on count day for a very informal pot-luck supper and tallying of the day's findings.

It's exciting, it's a wonderful contribution to conservation and the friendly competition it brings is great fun.

Call Bill Farnsworth 361-578-9745 or email at farnswfw@suddenlink.net to register your participation and for more information.

Judie Farnsworth is a longtime volunteer at the Texas Zoo specializing in educational programs.