Rain or shine, Bay Area birders participate in their own Christmas tradition when they grab a pair of binoculars and head out for the annual Bay Area Christmas Bird Count. Begun in 1900, the Christmas Bird Count takes place between December 14 and January 15 throughout the Western Hemisphere. Each bird count covers a 15-mile circle (about 177 square miles), with each circle divided into smaller areas. Last year, 56,623 participants counted more than 66 million birds. The results are sent to the National Audubon Society, which has amassed a century’s worth of data on early-winter bird populations.
Peter Metropulos of the Sequoia Audubon Society has participated in the Christmas Bird Count for 37 years. He’s seen many changes to San Mateo County’s habitats and the birds he records. Loss of wetlands and grasslands has meant fewer meadowlarks, horned larks, and burrowing owls. But more lawns and ornamental shrubs and trees have attracted larger numbers of American robins, Anna’s hummingbirds, Canada geese, and hooded orioles.
Some years bring gifts more exciting than anything found under a holiday tree. Benicia count organizer Robin Leong, who has been participating since 1980, said his group sighted an eastern blue jay in 2005, only the ninth true blue jay recorded in California (our local jays are the western scrub jay and Steller’s jay).
To find Christmas Bird Counts near you, go to the national Audubon web site at www.audubon.com.