Christmas Bird Count in Columbia aims to see a great number of species

Monday, December 13, 2010 | 7:31 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The annual Christmas Bird Count hosted by the Columbia Audubon Society will take place Saturday. After the count, there will be a chili supper at the Community of Christ Church in Columbia.

The city will be divided into 13 sections, each with a leader and teammates to help cover the area. The groups record all of the birds they see, the conditions, how many people were searching and the number of hours they spent looking. The radius extends seven miles in each direction from the center of Columbia, according to Laura Hillman, compiler of the count.

Usually there are 65 to 70 participants, but Hillman is expecting more than 70 this year based on the amount of interest already expressed by people in the city.

“Columbia is one of about 50 circles in the state, and these divisions have been in place for about 25 years,” Hillman said.

At this time, there are still plenty of available spots, and Hillman is encouraging more young people to join, but she said the group is always looking for more people to count birds.

In an average year, the counters observe nearly 100 species of birds.

“We are always aiming for over 100 species, although we rarely see that,” Hillman said.

The most common species of birds include cardinals, robins, blue jays, woodpeckers and hawks. By December, most of the warblers and migratory birds have left for the winter, Hillman said.

People usually congregate around dawn and go for about eight hours, all taking different approaches to search. Some people drive in one car, some in two, some drive and some walk the trails, depending on what part of the city they are in, Hillman said.

According to a news release from the national Audubon Society, last year, more than 2,100 groups of people participated and 60,753 people tailed 2,319 bird species and nearly 56 million birds. The annually collected data is used to better understand how birds and the environment are doing, and what needs to be done to protect them, the release stated.

“It’s a fun way to make sure we succeed in finding as many birds as possible,” Hillman said. “It also is a good way to document the effects of things such as global warming, and whether there has been a significant change in a species of bird."

After the data have been collected, the sections congregate at the chili dinner, where they record how many of each bird people saw until all species and sections are covered, which usually takes about an hour, Hillman said.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when teams competed to see who could shoot the most game, including birds, until it was proposed that people should just document the birds, according to the release.

Hillman encouraged people to contact her if they have any interest in participating. She can be reached by phone at 442-3703 or e-mail at

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