Doves are popular in Christmas Bird Count

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By Sylvia Brockner

Once more the holiday season is upon us, and with it comes the 108th Christmas Bird Count. As usual, the Evergreen Audubon Society will participate, covering the Evergreen-Idaho Springs area. This year’s count will be held on Sunday, Dec. 16. All Audubon members, guests, friends and the public are invited to participate.

All groups are led by a competent leader, and it is not necessary to be an expert birder to participate. Every pair of eyes helps locate birds, and your leader and others in the group will help with identification. Most groups are in the field from dawn to dark, but if this is more time than you can spend, you may make arrangements with your leader to meet late or leave early. The goal is to see, identify and count as many birds as possible in your territory.

Tom Van Erp is compiler again this year. Brad Andres is the co-compiler, and Barbara Jean Gard is once more compiler of the feeding station reports.

The first count was held in 1900, with 25 reports being submitted by 27 observers.

Since then, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the count has grown steadily, with this past year’s count totaling 57,851 observers submitting 2,052 counts with a total of 69,354,406 birds of 1,894 species observed. A rather remarkable tally of both winter birds and birders.

Today, with the accumulated records of 107 years of Christmas Counts, there is a wealth of material available for use by scientists to document the distribution and abundance of winter birds. The count has also been valuable in raising competition between clubs and individuals to see which group has the biggest list of species for the day, the greatest number of individual birds and the rarest or most unusual bird for their territory. This camaraderie has added greatly to the popularity of the counts and has certainly increased the number of participants.

The Evergreen-Idaho Springs count, for instance, has led the nation several times in the numbers of pygmy nuthatches and mountain chickadees reported, and led again last year with the highest count of mountain chickadees, 406. This is prime habitat for these two ponderosa pine forest birds, and such a good count indicates they are still here and nothing has changed their lives drastically enough to send them wandering off in search of better forests.

One of the most interesting birds in last year’s Colorado compilation was that of the Eurasian collared dove. A relatively new comer to the state (1996) and to North America, they were reported by 30 out of 34 territories, with a total of 3,417. This exotic bird has exploded over much of the south but is often confused with the ringed turtledove. I myself fell into this trap, for the Eurasian collared dove was not in most of the field guides until very recently. On the other hand, the ringed turtledove was and their similarity made many of us jump to the wrong conclusion. The ringed turtledove is a domesticated form of the African collared dove and was introduced into Florida 20 years ago or more. It does not do well in the wild and has not spread much beyond city yards and parks where people often feed it.

The Eurasian collared dove has come on the scene much more recently and has spread across the south into the southwestern states, where they are sometimes seen with white-winged doves. Anyone seeing any dove during the Christmas Count should study it carefully. The general feeling is that many reports of Eurasian collared doves may be a case of mistaken identity and need to be authenticated by some expert. If no one is available, get good photographs for later verification. There is little likelihood of any doves being seen on the local count, for our winters are too cold for them. The Eurasian collared dove might well be seen in the southern part of Colorado on the count, for it is breeding in southeastern Colorado already, and the southwestern desert is more like their native habitat.

Following the day in the field, all count participants meet for the tally rally — chili, potluck supper. After a super supper, the day’s totals are tallied and a preliminary report is made. The totals won’t be final until all feeder reports have been received and tallied. If you want to participate in this year’s count, please call Tom Van Erp at 303-816-4420 or Brad Andres at 303-670-0101; or, if you wish to send in a feeder report, call Barbara Jean Gard at 303-674-3280. Each participant in the field is asked to contribute $5 to the National Audubon Society to defray the cost of collating and printing the results of the national count. This can be paid to your leader on count day. He also can give you directions to the supper, which is at Walt and Polly Phillips’ house. If you plan to attend the supper, please call Lori Hogan at 303-674-985 to let her know how many are coming and what dish you will contribute. There is a nominal charge of $2 per person to offset the cost of the chili, etc.